From the moment Hiro picked his victim to the drowning kid’s final death throes, there is no background music. One less illusion, I suppose. One less obstacle to distract the audience from the unflinching monstrosity unfolding before us. Luckily, there’s no escaping the fact that this is an animated work. Could you imagine watching a live action version of Hiro’s murders? Christ, I can still remember the father’s anguished, guttural cry when Hiro tells him as-matter-of-factly that he is killing the kid as well. I can still remember the tears and snot streaming down the man’s face after learning that his wife is dead. Hiro quickly disposes of the man. We are then trapped in the room, forced to watch helplessly as the man’s body pushes the kid down into the bloody bath water. The kid’s arms flail futilely. Fuck, man. This is the sort of unforgiving realism that I expect from Portrait of a Serial Killer, not an anime that — in last week’s episode — had previously seemed so dopey. In fact, as I witness Hiro’s crimes, I couldn’t help but think, “Did the anime really need to go this far? Was it really necessary to watch a kid die like that?” Therein lies the true efficacy of the episode’s horror.
Too many shows trivialize, glamorize and thus cheapen death. Too many shows want to revel in the idea of merciless murder, but they don’t actually understand what makes the deed so truly monstrous. It’s all just a circus to them. Gallons of blood spraying fifty feet into the sky. Some goofy big, bad baddie posing and preening for the camera, laughing idiotically like a jester. Dying characters poetically uttering their last words as the hero grimaces and swears vengeance. This is why anime series like Akame ga Kill are so ineffectual in their attempts to shock us with their cartoonish violence. These shows don’t understand the cold suddenness of murder. Bang. The mother is dead. They don’t understand the powerlessness of the victim. Sorry, pops, but your son will die too and there’s nothing you can do about it. They don’t understand the ugliness of murder. The kid’s death was disgusting. Absolutely horrifying. There is nothing poetic about it. No one is left to pick up the pieces. He finally toys with the daughter the same way a predator plays a cat-and-mouse game with a prey. You’re nothing to me. You’re just an ant beneath my heel. When the portrayal of murder is so uncompromising that you wonder whether or not it should’ve been done at all, then you’ve done it justice.
Murder should not be entertaining, and as a result, I have to commend MAPPA. I really have to hand it to them for at least the second half of this episode. Even Ichiro’s attempt to save the the daughter is harrowing in its execution. We can do nothing but shake our heads as the old man traps himself in traffic. We want to yell, “You have super powers! Use your legs and run!” But we can’t blame him; he doesn’t really know what’s going on. He doesn’t yet know what he’s up against. Hiro is not some charismatic anti-hero that invites the audience to come along for a blood-soaked joy ride. Instead, this is an illuminating glimpse at sociopathy. Whereas Ichiro can now only feel his tenuous connection to humanity by performing good deeds, it’s safe to say that it had always been tenuous for Hiro. He could cry for manga characters and his dead puppy, but he always had issues empathizing with those who weren’t his friends or family. Whatever happened that night when the aliens destroyed their mortal bodies, the aliens also severed Hiro’s connection to humanity as well.
After all, he says feels alive after killing the family, not that he feels human. The distinction is important and necessary. Speaking of which, if I had to nitpick anything, I wouldn’t have had Hiro say those words: “I’m alive. I feel alive.” I would’ve just had him shudder, allowing the scene to settle disquietly into abject silence. We would’ve gotten the same message, but in a much more effective way. But you know me. I always think less is more. Likewise, the first half of the episode isn’t bad, but it isn’t remarkable either. Hiro’s escapades with Ando — and his myriad “parlor tricks” — provide necessary characterization. He’s a character full of contradictions. He cares about Ando, urging the latter to start attending school again. He even implies that his friend doesn’t “have it very bad at all,” especially when compared to him. So like Ichiro, Hiro does feel though he’s lost something important. But perhaps due to his fractured development, he’s misidentified it. He doesn’t realize what’s important. He clearly mistakes the orgasmic high that follows the act of murder to be an affirmation of life. But hey, any animal can get an adrenaline rush.
I can’t wait to see how the story will build on this episode.