Ando rejects Hiro’s friendship. It’s just not right. He can’t be friends with someone who kills. But the latter is perplexed: “I’ve always been like this.” Hiro finally convinces his friend to come to school, and it doesn’t take long for the bullies to smell blood in the water. They immediately try to pick on Ando, but this time, Hiro is there to intervene. He manages to scare the ringleader away, but it’s not enough. After school, he takes aim at the rest of the gang like some sort of rooftop sniper. Bang. Bang. Bang. Again, I appreciate how this anime approaches violence. Last week’s episode gave us an uncompromising and harrowing glimpse at Hiro’s sadism. We adopted his perspective, and as a result, we got a front-row seat to his murdering spree. In contrast, the body count in this week’s episode is even higher, and yet, MAPPA leaves much to the imagination.
The first round of victims practically die offscreen; we see only what Ando can see through binoculars. The second round of victims certainly die offscreen. Following his friend’s rejection, Hiro takes his anger out on yet another unsuspecting family and perhaps a pair of children playing in the streets. We adopt Ando’s point of view each time. Literally in the first case, and metaphorically in the second. We are the powerless bystander. Not only can we do nothing to help these victims, we don’t even get to see the whole truth. Hiro’s violence is no joke. He isn’t putting on a show. He doesn’t pose like one of his favorite manga characters. He’s just a ruthless murderer. Worst of all, Hiro’s always been like this. It’s as if he’s asking Ando, “Why are you bothered now? I’ve always been this heartless. I’ve never cared about others. I only now have the powers to do anything about it. How do you think you really know me?”
Hiro seems to accept the fact that Ando will no longer be his friend, but even as he leaves, he mutters, “Just don’t skip school anymore, okay?” He keeps insisting on this. Why, I wonder. Earlier in the episode, Hiro said school would be boring without Ando. It’s easy, then, to write him off as just another bored, selfish kid who only looks out for his own personal enjoyment, but I actually do think he cares about Ando. The problem is that he only cares about his friends. His victims are nothing to him. They’re playthings. They’re mobs in a video game. They’re extras in a movie. They’re fodder. Remember, this is a guy who tears up after reading a good manga. He’s not completely devoid of feelings. At the very least, he seems to take his favorite manga to heart, and these tales always tell you to be loyal to your friends. I bet Hiro believes that wholeheartedly.
But aren’t shounen manga typically full of heroic, compassionate characters who can do no wrong? Why, then, does Hiro kill so indiscriminately and so heartlessly? Well, he’s not here to play the hero. He finds that troublesome, after all. And what comically evil villain has ever cared about killing extras? Obviously, manga is not to blame. No manga or book or movie or what have you can ever drive a sound mind to brutally murder a family out of cold blood. The kid is fundamentally broken. Even so, you wouldn’t turn to manga to raise a kid, so I’m not surprised that Hiro looks at his victims as though they’re just faceless nobodies in one of his favorite comic books. Hiro would have to go out of his way to save people. He would have to try and save as many people as he can. He would also have to feel bad if he failed. Killing random nobodies is so much easier by comparison.
Belief is a powerful thing. Does Hiro need to say “bang” each time? No, it completes the illusion. Unlike Hiro, Ichiro has little to no mastery over his superpowers. It’s not like he even wants this body. He feels no longer human; he feels as though his heart is growing cold. It’s not a surprise, therefore, that he hasn’t really bothered to see what his new body is fully capable of. But when Ichiro hears a family caught in a burning home, he needs to get there in a hurry. He saw Hiro rocket off into the skies at the start of the episode, so he should be able to do the same thing. At first, however, Ichiro’s body wouldn’t cooperate. This is like trying to sprint for the first time when you’ve been nothing but a couch potato. In Ichiro’s case, he’s probably hasn’t physically exerted himself in not just years but decades. He also looks like and believes himself to be a frail, old man. Belief is everything, so naturally, his body doesn’t respond. Even if your body is made out of alien technology, what good is it if your spirit is as weak as your former flesh?
And that’s why Ichiro begins to sing the Astro Boy theme song. “He may be small, but only in size. Astro Boy! Astro Boy!” Slowly but surely, Ichiro strengthens his resolve, and his body begins to respond in kind. He needs to believe. “Falling won’t kill me,” he reassures himself. And like Hiro, Ichiro draws his inspiration from a similar source. The difference is — and what a crucial difference it is! — that Ichiro sees himself as an underdog. These two are not underdogs in any literal sense. They’re more like gods. Hiro rattles off a list of things he can do: launch a nuclear missile, hack into any network around the world, give himself as much money as he wants from ATMs, so on and so forth. He’s got no reason to lie. He can even cure major diseases, and Ichiro is no different. But whereas Hiro only has 16 or 17 years of experience to shape his mentality, his counterpart bears the burden of decades on his shoulders. Ichiro’s been a loser for a long time now. He’s been a worthless ojiisan for a long time now. That’s why he needs to see himself as a plucky underdog.
Ichiro comes across a dying cat in the streets. A car had just run it over, and a nearby kitten is crying frantically for its mother. With his touch, however, the old man inadvertently heals the dying cat’s wounds. It then gets up and leaves with its kitten as if nothing ever happened. Ichiro quickly realizes that he can save the terminally ill; he can even cure cancer. It really makes you wonder how different the story might be if he had discovered his powers sooner. Might he have been able to save the family from last week’s episode? Well, it’s likely he can only heal the sick and the wounded as opposed to raising the dead. The family was already cold by the time Ichiro got to them. But even if he can save people from a burning home or heal the wounded, is this really a realistic goal? Maybe that’s why being a hero is so troublesome. We can’t really save everyone.
Crime happens all the time. Misfortune happens all the time. A burning house, a hurricane, and people contracting cancer are all examples of bad things that Ichiro can prevent, but he’s not omnipotent. He can’t be everywhere at once. We still don’t fully know how his powers work either. Doesn’t it require energy to heal someone? Won’t he eventually tire himself out? It comes down to triage. As a cat person, I’m glad he saved that cat. As a general animal lover in general, I wish he could’ve saved a poor dog that Hiro shot to death in the same episode. But every opportunity is fittingly accompanied by a missed opportunity. Perhaps several missed opportunities. Saving a salaryman from being beaten up by thugs might mean he can’t save another person from being assaulted or even murdered. Healing cancer patients is a noble act, but even though Ichiro has to remain cognizant of the fact that Hiro is killing so much more. He’s got a far more pressing issue to attend to.