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labingi ([personal profile] labingi) wrote2017-01-09 09:23 pm
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Long Overdue Essay on Mirage of Blaze and Trigun as Interrogators of Philosophies

Trigun and Mirage of Blaze are two stories I hold to be very great. Both come packaged in popular media forms (manga and light novel respectively) that connote light entertainment, not high literature. Yet both are among the most philosophically challenging texts I have read. Indeed, the two stories are engaged in philosophically analogous projects: while Trigun is a profound interrogation of Christian philosophy, Mirage is a profound interrogation of Buddhist philosophy. (Major spoilers for both follow.)


The central question of Trigun is this: Is the teaching of Jesus sufficient to living a fully moral life? In other words, is it enough to love your neighbor and your enemy, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar, give your coat as well, be blessedly persecuted, and so on? Or must Caesar sometimes be actively opposed? Must the persecution sometimes be challenged, even if it means harming (or even killing) some people?

This philosophical question is principally enacted by Vash the Stampede, Wolfwood, and Knives. Vash represents the teachings of Jesus: he is a saintly man, committed to compassion (“love and peace!”), helping others on a case-by-case basis, and killing no one. Vash’s twin brother, Knives, represents violent social revolution: the ardent belief that wide scale destruction may be justified in cause of ending social oppression, enslavement, torture, specifically of their Plant people, who are widely regarded by humans as mere machines to be used and disposed of. Knives would like to wipe the humans off their planet to liberate the Plants. Wolfwood—morally tormented, cross-shaped gun-toting, priest-assassin that he is—stands somewhere in the middle. He cares a great deal about individuals; he has a great deal of compassion for them but he is also staunch in his avowal that sometimes you have to do damage to save people. Sometimes the lesser evil is to kill.

Trigun offers no pat answer to this philosophical dispute. But here are some salient points:

• Wolfwood is morally tormented by killing, yet he’s right: if you’re not willing to kill, innocents will die.
• Vash ultimately chooses to kill to save the life of a man Wolfwood died to save—and Vash, too, is morally tormented by it. Yet that man goes on to save others.
• Knives is clearly the “bad guy,” and yet if it were down to Vash, Plants would never be liberated: minus deus ex intervention from Earth, they would likely continue to be exploited until they slowly went extinct, followed by the humans who depend on them for energy.
• Yet because Knives forces Vash into an epic battle showdown of Plants vs. humans, Vash is able to use his compassion to share the feelings of Plants telepathically with humans, thereby creating a sea change in which humans can no longer deny that Plants are living beings. This is Vash’s solution, but the situation that alleviates the enslavement of the Plants would never have happened without Knives’ revolution.

So are the teachings of Jesus sufficient? You make the call.

Mirage of Blaze

The central question of Mirage of Blaze (to the extent I have been able to read translations: about one third of the text) is this: Can attachment be a better choice than enlightenment? Mirage does not dispute the basic Buddhist tenant that detachment is the path to enlightenment, tranquility, the end of suffering, and truly selfless, loving compassion. But it does question whether all those things are necessarily the best path for everyone—personally and morally. Can attachment be a valid—even a more moral—choice?

This philosophical conundrum is played out principally through the agonies of Naoe, a Buddhist monk deeply familiar with Buddhist teachings who nonetheless consistently rejects them (across 400 years) to cling to his obsessive love/adoration/lust/hate/need for his lord, Kagetora. Now in many ways, this decision is dumb: it has many negative consequences. To name a few:

• 400 years of dysfunctional fighting between Naoe and Kagetora.
• Naoe’s raping Kagetora’s girlfriend—and then letting her soul die to save Kagetora.
• General misery for both Naoe and Kagetora.
• Suicide attempts.
• Degraded physical health.
• Naoe sexually molesting (arguably raping) Kagetora.
• Misery for friends and family who have to watch all this.

And yet, here’s the kicker: Kagetora needs Naoe’s attachment to emotionally survive. He himself comes from childhood and youth marked by insecurity and abandonment. He has poor self-esteem and a deep need to be unconditionally loved by someone who will not abandon him and will always put him first (whatever the more rational, external context requires). Naoe is the only one who truly, completely provides this. We see what happens to Kagetora when he loses this in the weird but psychologically cogent arc in which a spell makes him believe that someone else is Naoe, and thus, that Naoe no longer loves him—because this other fellow doesn’t. Kagetora falls to pieces. He is in agony, and he almost dies—and would have died had Real!Naoe not saved him. (And—added bonus—he’s much less effective at performing his job of saving Japan from vengeful spirits than when he’s stabler.)

So would it, in fact, be the more moral choice for Naoe to detach from him and let that happen when Naoe’s attachment is the one thing in existence that can save him from despair?

There’s much more to say about this—and I don’t know what it is (some of it) because the second half of the story has mostly not been translated.


So I will end by saying, I am impressed. It is not an easy thing to mindfully, morally call into question the sufficiency of the teachings of Jesus or of the Buddhas, both so obviously wise and laudable. But earnest questioning is inherently valuable, and Trigun and Mirage do us a great service in helping us engage in it.