INUYASHIKI: LAST HERO -
OUR LIVES ARE NOT OUR OWN
Inuyashiki: Last Hero is the big hit show of the season with no other show airing right now invoking this much discussion and debate. I think a large part of the reason for this is that the show prioritizes the story as a whole over the impact value of certain moments in that story. So much tv these days is made to elicit a response from the viewer. Be it tugging at your heartstrings with a moving dialogue or leaving you in shock when that one character you liked suddenly dies. This has led to a culture where single moments are given priority over the entire narrative. It’s all about that one moment where that one character is suddenly killed off out of the blue, regardless of whether any of the events leading up to it were narratively sound or in any way compelling to watch. Inuyashiki, however, is different. It certainly has its fair share of moments that will doubtlessly shock the viewer. But those moments flow as a natural progression from the events leading up to it. They don’t exist as single entities made to be memorable and elicit a response but as beats in a much larger story. To further elaborate on this point I’m going to analyze the show’s most recent episode, episode 7, and the way in which it tells its story, comments on the overarching themes of the show and, most importantly, leaves it up to the viewer to think and feel what they want.
Spoilers incoming for episode 7 of Inuyashiki! Don't read if you haven't seen the episode or the show as a whole yet. In which case...what are you still doing here? Go watch it right now!
This episode is a majorly important episode because it’s the conclusion to a character arc that was set in motion several episodes prior. This connection is clearly established in the episode’s cold open which takes place several days before the end of the previous episode and focusses on a particular scene that takes place right after the mid part of that episode. Episode 6 made it’s mid-episode climax where we see Hiro flying into the night, screaming out loud and crying. The beginning of episode 7 is the continuation of that scene. Hiro is found by his classmate’s grandmother and brought back home, seeming his usual apathetic self. What’s interesting however is how the climax of this scene is postponed. We first cut to an exterior shot of the building before lingering on a shot of the clock slowly ticking. It all feels like the build-up to a big event that’s about to happen. Especially since this is the cold open, which is a spot usually reserved for a compelling hook to open the episode on. Instead, we are treated to something that’s almost more akin to an anti-climax. Hiro is still in bed as tears stream down his face. The climax of this episode isn’t a big moment but rather a very small gesture that hints at a much bigger turn later on that challenges our view on a character we’ve come to accept as incapable of feeling real human emotion. Yet this little scene also serves as a logical progression to the events that came before i.e. the death of his mother.
Episode 7 of Inuyashiki can best be described as an episode of reflection and evolution. Hiro reflects on his actions, his desire to kill people, his unwillingness to discuss these feelings with his mother and ultimately the moment that changed his life and his response to that life-altering event that led him to the situation he is in now and the tragedy he’s confronted with that is for a large part, of his own making.
The next scene is a flashback to the moment that gave birth to Hiro’s aspirations as a serial killer. A grim reaper sowing death everywhere. A salaryman, tired of life, steps in front of a train and his life is quickly extinguished as the train rolls over him. A person that one moment is alive, the next is reduced to nothing but a heap of flesh and bones while the inanimate object of the train keeps moving forward.
This is the violent end of a person’s life and yet this scene isn’t about the violence. It’s about how Hiro reacts to witnessing that violence. The moment the man is run over by the train is over in less than five seconds with the only gore being a severed arm that flies off which is on screen for exactly a single second. On the other hand, the segment where Hiro walks over to the front of the train is painfully slow and takes up almost half a minute. This inequality in terms of screentime between event and reaction to that event continues to the next beat of this scene as Hiro witnesses the very gory result. Yet the man’s heavily mutilated body, cut in half by the wheels of the train, is on screen for only four seconds and the gory parts for even less than that as the screen begins to distort to signify the distortion of Hiro’s mind as malignant ideas begin to take root. Instead, the show spends twice that amount of time on focusing on Hiro’s reaction and the disjointed nature between his shocked facial expression and the glimmer in his eye that signifies a sense of morbid fascination, right before the distortion overtakes the shot entirely and the scene abruptly cuts out.
As I said this is an episode of reflection and evolution. This is, in a very real sense, the episode where Hiro, as we know him, gets broken down, leveled by the events that preceded the episode and the feelings he is now, for the first time in his life confronted with and, at first, unwilling to accept.
Later on, in the episode, Hiro decides to stop deceiving the people that care about him and confronts his classmate Shion with the horrible truth, that he did kill all those people. Everything he says confirms the image we’ve had of Hiro up to this point. He says he’s heartless, describes himself as a bottomless darkness. He says he has to kill people to feel alive and that he is not human. Everything he says falls in line with the stereotype of a psychopathic serial killer. But Shion refuses to accept this image that Hiro paints of himself. The comfortable image of a stereotype that makes us feel like we could easily place Hiro in a specific category of people. But real people can’t simply be categorized and indexed like things and a well-written character is someone who doesn’t feel like a character but like an actual person.
In the next part of this scene, Hiro becomes frustrated and drags Shion outside, flying off with her into the night, declaring that from this moment on the whole world is his enemy and that he is going to kill everyone. At this point, the scene could still be considered an affirmation of Hiro as a murderous psychopath on a massive killing spree. Even the music corroborates this. Dark, brooding and growing in intensity. Like an all-powerful threat that destroys everything in its path. But Shion’s reaction to his terrifying declaration utterly shatters this idea and along with it the music instantly dies. She screams at Hiro, begging him not to leave her and her grandmother behind. Because to her, he isn’t a terrifying monster. To her he’s a person she cares about and fully believes is capable of kindness and making the world a better place.
Inuyashiki is not a series about characters that can be moved around in the story to create moments that will elicit a response from the audience. It’s about real people and the way they interact with one another. The most obvious evidence to this claim I think is the fact that each episode is named after one of the show’s characters. Because these people aren’t “the wimpy old guy who becomes a hero” or “the teenage serial killer” These characters don’t exist to serve a particular role in the story. They exist as real people within the fictional universe of the show.
Inuyashiki: Last Hero is about the nature of good and evil and how normal people will react when given the power to decide over life and death. But it’s also about how people interact with one another and how a person’s life will inevitably be influenced by his or her encounters with others.
A great story does not consist of a succession of impactful moments intercut with scenes that only serve to lead up to those moments. A great story consists of characters that act and feel like real people do and the way that their actions and feelings are influenced by their interactions with their fellow human beings. Nobody’s life is ever truly their own. From the moment you are born to the moment you die your life is subject to a myriad of events brought about by the actions of others and what’s important here is how you react to those events. A reaction that will indubitably be influenced by prior events and prior interactions with others. Because each individual is a self-sustained entity but each of those entities is part of the giant complex system that is mankind.
At this point, Inuyashiki: Last Hero is still a good deal away from its finale and so I can’t yet say if all this excellent storytelling will result in a rewarding and memorable conclusion. But even if it doesn’t I honestly wouldn’t mind that much. Because Inuyashiki isn’t about set up and pay off. It’s not about grabbing the viewer’s attention and ramping up the tension to let it all out in one big moment that will make them go “oh shit!”. The show isn’t devoid of scenes that are shocking and violent but director Keiichi Satou, writer Hiroshi Seko and music composer Yoshihiro Ike made the very bold and highly praiseworthy decision to not place the focus on those moments and the feelings they could invoke but instead tell a story about people and the acts they commit, both good and bad, as a result of their interactions with each other. Love it or hate it Inuyashiki is a show that’s bound to invoke feelings from its audience. But those feelings will not be the same for everyone and the emotional response you get will not be influenced by what the show tells you to feel but rather your own experiences and interactions with those around you.
Special thanks to @Kuze for editing and feedback.
See you Space Cowboys...