Akumetsu and the Ubermensch

Over a year ago, I read a strange manga series called Akumetsu, which translates to "Destruction of evil" or "Destroyer of evil." It was a highly political action series about a lone terrorist who could somehow keep coming back from the dead to kill corrupt Japanese politicians. Most of it was talking for chapters upon chapters about real political issues as a way for the author to get on his soapbox and speak what he saw to be the answer to the questions everyone was asking. You know, one of those "EVERYBODY ELSE BUT ME IS WRONG" stories. To it's credit, I still enjoyed it because there was a lot of energy and presenting the various sides of the argument at play, but with a ton of strawmen as well who were obviously speaking crap. Also, Akumetsu was almost always right about everything.

But I'm not here to review it (I've already done that on OTDSOT), I'm here to go a bit further. I've been wracking this story in my mind for awhile now, and I think I'm finally ready to analyze it a bit more than I have in the past. It really does deserve that, because it brings up some pretty old philosophy and concepts and has a fascinating cultural influence on it. In particular, Akumetsu is made up of two parts.
  1. Male power fantasies born from seinen action manga.
  2. The concept of Nietzsche's Ubermensch.

Akumetsu is a shonen series, I'm aware, but it has a lot of elements of the common seinen action story. Their the usual male power fantasies, with big, powerful, righteous dudes beating up equally powerful but evil dudes to usually rescue some sort of damsel character or to stop some great evil. There's a lot of forms of that story out there, but Japan's seinen manga scene has become really attached to them. A non-manga example would be Sega's Yakuza series, where the series hero, Kazuma Kiryu, constantly fights against some form of government or criminal corruption and has a habit of trying to save a girl at the same time at a certain point in the story. It's a dude's world, and even the ladies that can kick ass rarely have much to do in it when it comes to the violence.

Yeah, these aren't exactly stories feminist groups hold high, and that's a perfectly fair criticism. Even good old Satoshi Kon seemed to have some issues with it, dedicating an episode of Paranoia Agent to a father who's sense of right and wrong went to swiss cheese reading the things, using them as his moral grounds and justification for theft, abduction and even attempted rape. But that's a story for another time.

Don't get more evil seinen than this.
Akumetsu fits heavily into the seinen action manga mold, with Shou acting as the morally correct guy who has to set everything right, with the various ladies in the cast having a purely support role, even the one badass cop among them. Strangely, the main love interest just gets forgotten after the big reveal of how Shou keeps coming back to life and doesn't have a real role to play until the series finale. She barely gets to get a cameo during that time, which might be more due to the writer wanting to talk more and more about his politics.

Akumetsu is definitely a hero's tale of sorts, as everything Shou does is treated as morally correct. I'll get a bit more into that when I get to Nietzsche, but the series outright says he's not evil at one point when one character senses him out as good when she doesn't get a nose bleed around him. That character is "Bloody Mary," a detective who gets a bloody nose around evil people. This is manga, you should expect this by now. So, it fits the most bare elements of a seinen action series; a morally powerful man destroying evil, rescuing a damsel at one point, and most importantly; sacrifice. Shou's goodness in the horrible things he does comes from his awareness of his own evil and deciding to have a punishment for himself at the end. His actions do not come without suffering, which could raise some serious morality questions, until it is confirmed that Shou is "not evil." That said, the implication could be more that Shou is above good and evil, which is where the concept of the Ubermensch comes in.

The Ubermensch is a term coined by one Friedrich Nietzsche, a famous German thinker and artist who helped inspire fields of thought like postmodernism and existentialism. I'm not the guy to really get into what Nietzsche was all about, but the bigger picture thankfully isn't necessary. What is necessary is his idea of humanity's ideal person, the Ubermensch, also known as a "Superman" or "Overman" by some. The Ubermensch is a person who rejects the more metaphysical concepts, like religion and absolute truth or essence, and creates new values for the world. In a sense, the guy who picks up for god's death, and the values god brought, and the person who prevents nihilism from taking root. Most importantly, the Ubermensch must bring forth these new values from a love of life, where Nietzsche saw religion that created modern values as making those values based on controlling life as it was, thus destructive in the bigger picture.

And now you all have something to debate in the comments!

The Ubermensch becomes one of the major themes of Akumetsu. In a flashback arc, Shou's friend Katsuragi mentions the concept of the Ubermensch a lot, a person who can change the world as it currently is to something far better. Eventually, Shou decides to become such a being, using his cloning lab to make infinite versions of himself and a special memory transfer device to have every new Shou have the memories and knowledge of dead ones. If you're wondering about the cloning lab, I'd be here for hours trying to explain that, so let's just accept the good guy has a cloning lab and memory transfer devices.

Akumetsu's whole thing is killing one person and taking himself with that person, usually with an explosive attached to the head. This way, Shou is instantly punished for his sin, and it is heavily implied that he was going to destroy his entire cloning plant at the end of the month the story takes place through. He realizes he is doing evil onto evil, but for justifiable reasons beyond greed or perverse obsession. However, it's entirely possible that Shou himself isn't truly aware just how flawed his ideals actually are. This is the part where I wonder if the writer was planning this the whole time, or if it was a flaw he never noticed.

Probably the latter.
See, Akumetsu does want to help the world around him, but he also seems to be interested in more personal goals at the same time. Katsuragi was an ill friend of Shou's who died because of the corrupt mechanizations of a politician he points out early in the flashback arc, with the larger problem being just how messed up the entire Japanese political system had become. So, Shou eventually comes up with a month long gambit to get the current prime minister to man the fuck up and to wipe out the most corrupt sections of the diet. By the end of the month, the truth of Akumetsu would be revealed and the system would hopefully improve. But that doesn't exactly happen. The system isn't fully fixed, and the prime minister at the time didn't turn things around like he promised, appearing defeated and aged at the end, but still slightly hopeful. In other words, the good guy didn't completely succeed, and I suggest it's because he wasn't a true ideal of an ubermensch.

Shou seems to be doing more than just reforming the political landscape for his own beliefs, he may also be doing it for the sake of vengeance. His main motivator was Katsuragi, who wanted him to use that cloning plant (which only Shou can use, long story) to change the country for the better. Katsuragi died because of that system, giving Shou not just the motivation of helping his fellow man, but to get revenge on the system that killed his friend. This comes up during a chapter where he kills a man who signed off on a hospital cost cutting measure for his own greed, the man most responsible for what happened to Katsuragi. The implication is either that this is justice, or that this is Shou's flawed human nature causing him to stray from his goal and make a few poor decisions looking over certain things and paying for it. The last arc deals with the new element of the yakuza, along with two former loose ends that end up causing Shou incredible grief, along with the loss of some of his classmates. Akumetsu may not be completely good or evil; he may just be something in between. Thus, "not evil."

Akumetsu is a hard nut to crack. On the surface, it appears to be a release for the writer's problems with the world, but it may also be a critique of people who enjoy those view aligning tales. This even gets shown when it seems like a rebellion is going to start, only for people to start to become disgusted and horrified with the terrible things Akumetsu does, despite how much they despise the victims. It may even be a critique of the idea that man can decide what is right with absolute perfection, or it may truly believe this line of thinking. I'm not sure even the writer himself knows for sure at a certain point. But there is one thing I can take from it with certainty; corrupt politicians may be people, but they're also fucking everyone over and something should be done about it at some point. As for what that "something" is, I'll let you all come up with your own answers. I'm in the camp that Akumetsu wasn't on the right train of thought. It may be true what they say; violence isn't the answer. At the same time, what is the answer?


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