Commissioned post for Shane DeNota-Hoffman
Transitional episodes are hard to write about.
This is true in general, I find. They’re liminal by definition, suspended between one thing and another, slippery and hard to pin down. It’s even harder when you don’t actually know what’s coming next–when it’s clear what the transition is from, but not what the work is transitioning to. Different possible outcomes could lend themselves to very different readings, and so it is necessary to approach the episode with, essentially, all of them at once.
The big question left unresolved at the end of this episode is, of course, the nature of the giant demon-destroying ball of light that covers a significant chunk of the planet. The strong implication is that it is divine in origin, given the repeated references to Revelation and the cuts between the effects of the light and the preacher talking about the destruction of Sodom. But what does “divine” mean here?
The most straightforward, obvious answer is that the divine is the opposite of the demonic. The light is thus an indicator that a new player has entered the game, a force in opposition to the demons and, it seems, better able to deal with them than humans. But what is the opposite of the demonic?
For Ryo, who sees the demons as purely and entirely evil, it would follow that the opposite is something purely and entirely good, a traditional view of the divine in keeping with the episode’s heavy Christian references. So why, then, does he panic when the light appears? One possibility is simply that it’s one more way in which things are going out of control–he is already disturbed by humanity reacting even more violently than he predicted and thereby being more vulnerable to the demons, plus Akira has just walked out on him with the intent of gathering more devilmen. Now this light appears, and Ryo begins to realize that he has been playing with forces far beyond his understanding, forces that may have apocalyptic results.
Alternatively, Ryo has justified his own callous disregard for the lives lost and people killed in his war as a necessity. He lives in a gray and black world, in which the only way to fight evil is to be nearly (but in his mind at least, not quite) as bad as that evil. To learn that there is an opposite force to the demons, a literal light in the world, is shattering–not least because by comparison, he really doesn’t look much lighter than the demons at all. He is panicking, in short, out of fear that he will have to stand judgment for what he’s done.
But these possibilities are about Ryo’s view of what’s happening. We already know he’s wrong in one major respect: demons aren’t inherently evil. We’ve seen demons act out of love, and there are at least four devilmen known to the audience: Akira, Miko, Koda, and now Taro. If demons aren’t inherently evil, their opposite isn’t inherently good; the divine here could quite easily be a force of repression and conformity just as the demons are a force of transgression and indulgence. Given Christianity’s long history–especially from the perspective of a non-Christian culture that successfully resisted attempts to colonize and Christianize it–of supporting repression and enforcing conformity, that would be just as in keeping with the episode’s Biblical references.
That reading also contextualizes this episode’s reminder that Akira is living in a Christian household, a relative rarity in Japan. This same household’s three children are, from oldest to youngest, the Devilman, the survivor of brief possession by a slime demon that took advantage of her relative innocence and budding sexuality, and another devilman that just ate someone’s dog. Despite millennia of effort, you can’t actually moralize away transgressive desires.
The beginning of the episode lends credence to this reading. The rappers compare panicked humans starting riots, roving street gangs that attack anyone suspected of being a demon, and tanks rolling through the streets to the threat posed by the demons, and conclude there really isn’t that much difference. Humans are who we are, and the more tightly we draw the boundaries of normative life, the more transgressive desire there is to repress. But desire, in itself, is neutral. Transgression, in itself, is neutral–doing wrong is wrong by definition, not because it breaks some rule. Breaking the same rule in different circumstances might be right!
In turn, this would imply that the most natural alignment is of humans and demons against the divine, and of course that in turn would make the person trying to gather the devilmen a vitally important bridge between the two groups. Akira as the link once again centers his strongest trait, compassion, and positions it in opposition to an authoritarian divinity. And indeed, compassion does make a far better guide to moral behavior than any ruleset ever could.
But in the end, all of this is still in the air. There are still three episodes to go, and they could dramatically alter how any of this reads. For now, we must remain open to that possibility, and not become too rigidly attached to one interpretation/ruleset/narrative ourselves.
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