“A deal. Let’s make a deal,” said the devil.
“No, absolutely not,” said Big Eyes.
“Sure. Let’s make a deal,” said Big Mouth.
Suddenly, Big Mouth’s garden was full of flowers. Big Eyes was very, very poor. He was so hungry, he could hardly bear it. Every day was a happy day for Big Mouth. His belly was full of the fruits that grew in his beautiful garden. Big Mouth was so happy, he didn’t notice. . . that his beautiful garden was dying. By the time he noticed, it was too late. His garden would never bloom again. Big Mouth opened his big mouth and sobbed.
“I should never have made a deal with the devil,” he wailed.
Big Eyes was so hungry, he began to starve. Tears trickled out of his big eyes and ran down his face.
“I should have made a deal with the devil,” he sobbed.
“A deal. Let’s make a deal. . .” said the devil.
— Big Eyes and Big Mouth
What is freedom? Is it the ability to do whatever one wants, without impunity? Or is it a constrained state, in which actions are taken via internal motivation rather than external imposition? Can one be physically contained and remain free? Can one be physically loose and yet not be free? And do these distinctions even matter, when the ultimate question is how one becomes free in the first place?
Innocence is Not a Virtue: Spoilers ahead
To prepare for my look at volume 7, I decided I’d try to read as many philosophical works about freedom and incarceration as I could. Needless to say, between the lack of free time I have and my quite miniscule tolerance for philosophical bullshit — Deontology and Consequentialism still mean jack diddly to me — I did not get very far. I did, however, gather a better way of framing the events of this volume, which primarily revolve around Tenma’s incarceration and escape, Nina’s slow discovery of her past, and the beginning of the redemption of Eva Heinemann.
All three are free in the sense that their motions and travel are unconstrained, they are able to make choices from a non-constructed set of possibilities, and are not imposed upon by a totalitarian/authoritarian state apparatus. That said, they aren’t free. Tenma is physically locked away for the first quarter of the volume and is on the run for the rest, his choices constrained by the state apparatus’ hunt for him, and thus every decision he makes, every action he takes, must consider the possibility that he will be recognized and his physical “freedom” will be revoked again.
Nina may be physically free but she does not have freedom of self. Her mind has locked away her past, preventing her from freely exploring it and when she is given access to glimpses of it, it robs Nina of her physical freedom. She faints, she forgets again, she is traumatized and thus cannot be free until she knows all of what is within and resolves the dissonance.
Eva, meanwhile, remains physically free for the first half of the volume, constrained, though not hidden or locked away, by The Baby for reasons thus far unknown in the second half. However, all her choices are determined by others, even if the motivations behind her decisions are her own. To testify or not to testify. These are the options presented to her by Fritz Verdemann, Tenma’s lawyer, and Doctor Reichwein and while those may be the only two choices available, they are no longer self-imposed, but impressed upon her, forcing her to actively decide which path to follow.
Or, perhaps, all of this is moot. Maybe no one is ever, truly free. Kant seemed to believe so, for the past is a shackle, out of our control yet a constant imposition on our present. Is Tenma’s choice to continue to hunt Johan and escape from prison after Roberto’s statement of intent to kill Eva a free choice? Or were they constrained by a moral imperative, thus negating, or perhaps enhancing, his freedom of choice?
Philosophers out there, let me know what I got wrong.
(Un)Lucky Seven Samson
One: it seems my comment about there only being one two-page spread, back in volume 5, was not quite correct, and volume seven contains another. It is not quite as impactful as the first, but the choice to present it as a full-shot rather than a few smaller panels, or even as a splash page, sells the gravity of the situation. 47 people lay dead in that room, blood everywhere, and what is important about it aren’t the details but instead the whole of the image.Continued below
The magnitude of these deaths and the quantity is the important takeaway from this reveal, rather than small glimpses we’ve been seeing over the last couple volumes, and even on the page leading up to it. We see it as Nina sees it, all at once and with a wide breadth, allowing only fear and horror in. Even with all the death and murder thus far, this is the most bodies we’ve seen at once and that is noteworthy and terrifying.
Two: The hardest part of discussing this volume is that this is the part of the series where things start to drag. Urasawa is, generally, very careful with his plotting, balancing old and new characters with crucial plot developments and emotional investments in the more mundane and smaller arcs. It’s a slow, methodical pace as well, teaching us how to read the story and get used to the changing focus and cryptic doling out of information.
For much of volumes one through six, he hits it out of the park each time but here, for some reason, the events feel sluggish and the characters don’t quite hit in the same way Michael or Grimmer or Rudi did earlier on. Perhaps this is because the reveals and connections are not substantial enough yet, leaving far too many mysteries unsolved or undiscussed, so that it seems a tangle of plots and characters which have yet to find neat, or at least clear, endings and groupings.
Fewer chunks of chapters are spent on any one character and when they are, it isn’t quite focused enough on them to have the same immersion as earlier chapters. The pull to know where Tenma is, where Nina is, where Eva is, what’s going on with Johan or Roberto or Grimmer or Detective Suk, is stronger than the desire to follow each focal character, even when that character is Tenma or Nina. The impatience begins to creep in and once that happens, it can be hard to get re-invested into a fragmented narrative.
In spite of all the reveals and twists contained within, this is certainly the weakest thus far. That doesn’t mean it is bad, or even skippable. Far from it. It is simply a volume that spends too much time setting up pieces in silence, rather than telling stories that grasp the mind and distract from the preparation of the grand finale.
Next week, the penultimate volume, Volume 8 (vol. 15 & 16 of the original release.)