All about the priest.
I was actually leery of using that as my opening line, as I can’t help but feel like I babble about Muroi a lot. In my defense, though, its easy to do so – he was pretty cagey about a lot of things for a while, after all. It took him twenty-one episodes to admit that he had tried to kill himself because he was unhappy. And he was always pretty non-committal even when he was being introspective.
However, I’ll also be talking about Ozaki a bit, as I think that these two, honestly, are the ones upon whom the story truly revolves. It was their relationship which ended up defining the whole show to an extent; their ending up on opposite sides makes that pretty clear. It all started with Muroi’s essay drawing the Kirishiki to Sotoba, and it all ended with Ozaki’s crazy mob. They both managed to set things in motion that they couldn’t truly control, either intentionally or not.
They also have a lot more in common than one would suppose at first glance, even if they do end up being the inverse of one another to an extent. Both are fairly passive, which sounds very strange to say about Ozaki. But let’s look at the evidence a bit: Ozaki may say a lot about wanting to stop the shiki throughout the show, yet it is Natsuno who spurs him twice to actually take some action. Natsuno suggests that there may be a supernatural reason for Sotoba’s troubles early in the show, and then when Ozaki is despairing of what to do after he finds that the local government has been completely taken over, it is also Natsuno who gives him the new hope necessary to take action.
One could argue that Ozaki does take action, so he isn’t that passive, after all. But Ozaki also lets the mob take on a life of its own; his protests about killing humans at the end of episode twenty are completely gone by the next episode. He’s given up on being able to keep the reins himself.
It is also worth noting that both Ozaki and Muroi, when they do make decisions and take action, make poor decisions. Ozaki sat on the entire vampire thing for how many episodes before mentioning it to anyone else? Muroi had tried to help him by gathering death statistics very early on, only to be yelled at by him. Ikumi and Ritsuko were both suspicious about what was going on in Sotoba, and both did, to wildly varying extent, make the doctor aware of their suspicions. Natsuno was the first one to suggest the supernatural at all. There were people out there Ozaki could’ve turned to. But he was too caught up in himself to do so. Despite his insistence of disgust over his father’s view of himself as town protector via his job, Ozaki was fairly under the spell of playing the hero as well.
So, we’ve got the hero complex. We’ve also got the martyr’s complex in Muroi. They’re interesting to consider in regards to one another, as both do involve a self-centeredness. However, Ozaki wants to “win” over the shiki, and he at least initially wants to be the one who is the reason for it. Muroi, on the other hand, seems to at least relish suffering in some manner. It isn’t overt; we never see him smiling while whipping himself with chains, for instance (unlike some other priests in 2010!). But Muroi neither seems so depressed as to be incapable of doing anything, nor does he ever actually do anything to change his situation. He may hate Sotoba, he may not really have any religious conviction, but he keeps going with his role as the priest.
I don’t think he started out this way. Based on his admission of being in despair, he did make an attempt once to change that. Perhaps it wasn’t the best of decisions, but he did something. So it seems as if the martyr’s complex was a later development.
Of course, Muroi continues to show signs of being suicidal. One can’t really call his defection to the Kirishiki anything but a move towards dying. That he, once again, manages to ‘survive’ death also helps to explain how the wishy-washy priest managed to suddenly kill a man with a cleaver. Muroi’s speech to Sunako also helps to explain his actions and shift in demeanor.
Muroi’s speech to Sunako is not really an argument about shiki being beyond the judgment of a god. He may frame it like that, but what Muroi is really saying is that there is no god. Muroi’s change in behavior and attitude isn’t as much of a one-eighty as it may seem. He’s still in despair. But its a different kind of despair he’s settled into now, a despair of everything. In a way, he’s moved beyond happiness versus unhappiness. He’s come to believe (or realize, since Shiki really is telling us that life and people both suck) that nothing really matters. His own actions don’t matter; he finally died, but he didn’t even get to stay that way. He’s been denied his desire for death twice now.
So Muroi is past caring. He can take Sunako’s hand and prevent her from going into the flames because he knows it doesn’t matter if what he is doing is cruel. The universe will do what it wants with him(and I do not mean ‘universe’ in the sense of some higher power), regardless of whether he is good or bad. Human society may force people to consider the consequences of their actions to an extent, but even this is easily swept away in the face of something like what happened in Sotoba. In death, he no longer has any need for human society anyway. He has become Abel from his own story (that we see a shot of the hill the temple is on in the background when Muroi explained his book in episode twenty-one is no coincidence). He is free to act as he wishes, because there is really no such thing as a ‘consequence’.
To shift back to Ozaki… thinking on it, the matter of whether he and Muroi swap places is more complicated than saying ‘they switched place’. Because Ozaki’s own character is more complicated than passive vs. active in the narrative sweep, although he is certainly more passive than he is active, honestly. For the one who ends up causing the final madness of the show, he isn’t a terribly active character. He just manages to do a lot of busy work which makes us on our initial impressions view him as being the exact opposite of Muroi. Without Natsuno, Ozaki was all set to give up. (I would like to point out, by the way, that this only applies to the anime; there is no Natsuno in the second half of the novels’ narrative, so I have no idea what does end up pushing Ozaki along. Novel!Ozaki very well could be a completely different character if he only has himself to motivate him into acting.)
So, Ozaki ends up reverting to his usual behavior. He doesn’t switch with Muroi; it just looks that way on the initial glance. Muroi is the one who ends up changing at the end, and even here it is merely a shift into a different variety of despair, albeit one which allows him to be a much more active person.
I didn’t do entirely what I was planning to in this post, so consider my “previews” of next posts to be loose at best. I intend to look at Sotoba itself more in-depth next time, and I also want to parse a Muroi’s description of his novel ‘Shiki’ and his admission of unhappiness as being the cause of his suicide attempt. At some point I also want to consider the impact that Shiki as a show had on me personally. And I am going to do a standalone post about the manner in which suicide was depicted in the show, although I’ll probably just include it as part of this massive retrospective set of posts. At the very least, you can anticipate there being at least three more posts in this series!
I suppose, quite simply, I still have a lot more to say about this show. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out Caraniel’s final post on the series; its her episode twenty-two post, but its much more about analyzing the characters than anything.