I wrote a bit on what evil is before and also mentioned how it is such a popular theme in almost all stories. The shonen genre in Japanese manga/anime and Japanese manga/anime in general have this theme at the center. There are a few instances of stories where this Kantian notion of what evil is particularly prominent. The more complex and interesting the evil characters are in a story results in more interesting heroes and an overall story. One of the reasons why I think Naruto was so well liked was in part due to the interesting villains and their reasons for doing so. If you cannot relate to the villains, it seems like they are either unrealistic or boring. In addition to nature, I recently watched the anime Id: Invaded and caught up in the manga of Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer). These two shows put Kant’s are prime examples of Kant’s notion of depravity.
Naruto is one of the most well known anime in the west and one of the biggest anime world wide. It follows our main character Naruto from when he was a young boy and til his teenage years. The fictional powers in the anime are centered around being ninja (not accurate to real life ninjas), who are well versed in ninjutsu (spells is the easiest reference), hand to hand combat, and genjutsu (sort of advanced mind tricks). On top of this, there are these things called tailed beasts, which have a lot of chakra (sort of like energy) and are imprisoned in humans who have to learn how to contain the tailed beasts. Naruto has one such tailed beast inside of him, and the main villains want to capture all the tailed beasts in the land for their own evil uses.
The main villains are called the akutski, who are made up of powerful ninja who abandoned their home nations and villages. All of the members have their own reasons for joining the akutski. They have even more grand reasons that are tied up to their backstory as well. Each fight with a villain, Naruto seems to never understand why they do what they do.
Starting off with the first arc, Naruto is on his first mission and encounters a very powerful villain with his team. This villain, Zabuza, has a partner who he uses like a tool, Haku. Haku himself even is ok with it since Zabuza saved him from his wretched life before. It got to a point though that Haku willingly sacrificed his life to save Zabuza and Zabuza took advantage of his dead body as well to try and attack his opponent. Zabuza still lost though, but when he lost Naruto was still not done with him. Naruto berates Zabuza for treating someone who cared for him as just a mere tool. Part of the reason that Haku was told this by Zabuza, is that most of the ninja are taught to not be human, to be mere tools. Zabuza even looked at himself like this. Naruto could not accept this, he did not want to be a ninja if that is what it meant. The last straw that made Naruto fly into a rant at Zabuza and also as a way for himself to work out what he was thinking was triggered by some crony businessman kicking Haku’s dead body. This speech that Naruto gave ended up being exactly what it took for Zabuza to realize that this story he was telling himself, that he is just a tool and Haku too, was wrong. Zabuza says to Naruto
You talk too much. Your words cut deep, deeper than any blade.
Id: Invaded is an anime that centered around this idea that humans can dive into the subconscious of people who have the intent to kill. When using the machine, the person is thrown into this world that is called “the well” which is generated from the subconscious of some serial killer. The person then investigates how this one girl is murdered, the way in which she was murdered is different in every serial killer’s well.
One serial killer that was investigated was call the “Pyrotechnician”. After he was caught, the main character did some psychoanalysis of the serial killer. The killer justified his actions in that there is no meaning in life and people’s lives themselves have no value. He particularly is loathsome of all the people who just watch atrocities and take pictures with their cell phones out. However, the main character was in his well, he also has information about the killer’s backstory. He was in the Middle East as a photographer, there was some massive loss of soldiers, and he himself became entranced with the atrocity. He told himself this story that there is no meaning in life, human life itself is worthless, which could be something you infer at the sight of seeing so many lives killed so easily. However, he himself was like the loathsome bystanders who take photos of gruesome events. Realizing that he was self-deceiving himself about his motives, the story that he was telling was turned back on him and made into just a fiction, the Pyrotechnician killed himself. The main character did this multiple times to victims, breaking these fictional stories they tell themselves.
Kimetso no Yaiba plays even deeper into the same theme of Id: Invaded. There are demons who grow stronger by eating humans. Due to this, humans became demon hunters to stop them. Their goal is to eradicate the first demon, which would get rid of all the demons. The first demon has his own special and powerful demons, called the lower and upper moons, six in each. The upper moon demons have lived for hundreds of years, killing countless humans and demon hunters. The main character is Tanjiro, who is own little sister was turned into a demon by the first. She is the only demon that can resist the urge to eat other humans. Tanjiro sets out to make his sister human and to also become a demon hunter.
As Tanjiro battles the stronger demons, he realizes that they are more humanlike, in that, they have more complex senses of self and personalities. The first major battle was with a child demon, who turned a bunch of people into becoming his family. He, in his human life, must have had issues with family, since he wanted one so bad that he created one with force. When he noticed the loving bond between Tanjiro and his sister, he realized that he wanted Tanjiro’s sister Nezuko for himself. Tanjiro tried to make him realize that it is obviously not how you create loving bonds with people by force, but ended up just killing the demon with force.
Later on, Tanjiro battles the third strongest demon, twice. The first time, Tanjiro upset the demon Akaza when Tanjiro called him a coward and said humans are brave. The humans cannot regenerate their body, they cannot last long in fights, and they are not immortal, yet they risk their lives for others. As Akaza was running away since the sun was about to come up (which would kill him), he was thoroughly upset because Akaza seemed to think that he was strong, while this human was calling him weak. The second time they met, Akaza was given another lecture in a sense by Tanjiro, who informed him that he was wrong in his thinking. Akaza believed that the weak should die and the strong should survived. Tanjiro reminded him that he too was once a baby, was once human, and was once protected by people stronger than himself otherwise he would have never survived past birth. Tanjiro managed to cut off Akaza’s head, which usually means that the human wins. However, Akaza was strong and was still managing to fight and regenerate his head. Akaza’s human memories started to flow back though. He remembered his past, how he cared for others, how he failed to protect the ones he cared for, and how he turned into a demon. His demon side was pulling him to keep fighting, but his human memories and self overpowered the demon side. Once this happened, he ended up killing himself.
The number two demon had his own motivations and fictional story. He believed that there was no heaven or hell, human life was worthless. He was born into a cult and worshipped as a leader, but quickly realized the cult was a sham and that humans are born to die and that is all there is. However, another demon hunter pissed him off by saying he was worthless in a sense because he did not have any emotions. When he lost his fight, he could have regenerated his head since he was also very strong, but he did not really care about living or dying. At the edge of death, his human memories came back too. He realized that he did have emotions and that there was meaning in life, things such as love.
The number one demon became a demon out of jealousy. His older brother was the strongest demon hunter of all time. Not only this, but he was better in every other respect, but he did not really care about being strong. He would have rather spent his time with his family. This pissed him off for his entire existence, he kept trying to surpass his older brother and become stronger which is why he became a demon, so that he could train more and more. When his head was cut off, he regenerated it. Once doing this though, he looked at his ugly, monsterous self, and realized that something has gone wrong. He came to understand that he would never be like his brother in terms of strength, but he missed out on the important parts of being human, and so he let himself die.
Tanjiro is always contrasted to the demons, since he is always honest with himself and his feelings. The strongest demon hunter even praises him for this. During a battle, Tanjiro chose to save some strangers over his sister, making the hard choice of protecting the innocent and the many over just one person, even if it is his sister. Tanjiro, when being praised, said that he in that moment did not make that choice very easily, there was still resistance and he could almost not decide what to do. For being so honest, Tanjiro ended up being praised even more.
In all of these series, there is a main character who represents being honest. When the villains are shown the reality of themselves, that these stories they tell themselves to justify doing bad things are just a fiction to justify their evil. Naruto uses this honesty to show villains the error of their ways, that they do not respect life as something of immeasurable value regardless of the person. This helps get some villains to repent in some way, even help Naruto in his endeavors. The serial killers come to realize the error of their own ways, their reasons for killing as just a fiction, and coming to realize this was too much for most of them since they killed themselves in a mix of shame, guilt, and repentence. Tanjiro’s character and arguments against villains was central to also defeating the demons, since the powerful ones could sometimes not be defeated unless they were made to realize their own evil.
Each hero in these stories are not without fault either. In Kantian language, they are still frail. Being frail may be the most that humans can amount to in being good, we may never be perfectly good. That is reserved for the ideal beings such as Jesus or the Buddha. It is why Tanjiro admits his difficulty in making hard choices, sometimes wanting to do things out of self-love. Another aspect is that usually heroes do the hard thing, the right thing, even if they don’t know how things are going to turn out. They may die because of doing the right thing, but they know they must do it. It is also why heroes in stories are usually very mindful of their fallen allies and friends. Those are the unfortunate ones who died while doing the right thing, it could have very well been our heroes instead.
Doing the good thing is required of us, in the name of freedom. This is what separates Kant’s theory of morals from others. Freedom only makes us worthy of happiness. This is what the highest good is in life, to try and unite freedom and happiness, while never abandoning freedom. What gets in the way of realizing this highest good is that we will try and reverse the order, we will try and do things out of self-love instead of following the objective and moral thing to do. The more depraved a person is, the more fantastical their story is and the easier it is for them to do immoral things.
If the heroes just wanted happiness, they would not be a hero. They could take some easy life, settle down, have some friends and family. But while their is evil in the world, they will not rest. They want not only themselves to be happy, but also everyone else. Kant’s ethics does not require anyone to be a hero though, being a hero is going above and beyond to make the world a better place. Not discussed here, but in My Hero Academia, this is the motivation of Hawks. He just wants heroes to not exist. His ideal world is one where heroes have too much time on their hands since there is no evil to fight.
When you listening to the villain’s speech and they lowkey making a lot of sense pic.twitter.com/SknRgZgehE— Joe 💉 (@phxnso) April 17, 2020