Understanding Insanity: What Makes Crazies Tick

Warning, there will some scattered spoilers but this post will focus on the subject matter and simply highlight my points with examples.  Madness is always in the air as far as anime is concerned.  The number of crazy motherfuckers running around in popular series is already sky high and they are plenty more if you take a look around.  This isn’t a criticism mind you, crazy can be its own kind of entertaining.  But with all the crazies out there somebody is bound to do it wrong, and that’s what this video is all about, exploring the ins and outs of what makes a compelling psycho.

Strange as this may sound, in order for a psycho to be convincing there must be a logical reason why he or she is insane.  Logical and lunatic rarely go hand in but as far as their creation goes, a psycho will only work if we understand why he or she is psycho.  Compare for a moment Makishima Shougo from Psycho Pass and Shinkawa from SAO.  Shinkawa is what happens when someone doesn’t understand what makes a compelling psycho.  The voice actor and artist sell Shinkawa’s craziness well but the core of his construction is piss poor.  You see Shinkawa is a victim of an author who simply needs a character to act crazy to make an event happen.  There is no real reason for him to be insane, he just is insane.  Compare that to Makishima who is insane insofar as his moral values are irredeemable.  The man himself is incredibly intelligent and lucid, but the goals he seeks to achieve have such a net negative effect on society that he can’t be considered anything but insane.  The reason he behaves this way is that he believes that the only decisions that have value are decisions made by an individual and he sees the Sybil system as denying people of their value by making all of their decisions for them and making them into vegetables.  Ergo he is a natural enemy of society under the Sybil system and the concept of normalcy itself.  That right there is a reason for Makishima to behave like a mad genius and because he has a reason to behave that way, we can understand him and grasp the themes he reflects in the story.  With Shinkawa there are no themes to grasp because he was not built into the narrative, he was simply thrown in to force a particular event or sequence of events to happen.  And lest you think shows like Psycho Pass are the only ones to understand psychos, trust me there is much simpler fare that manages to do just fine.

Akame ga Kill, which I reviewed in full here, is quite possibly the edgiest series I have ever seen.  It was pretty popular but I would not be surprised if a few years from now it’s considered a pleb anime alongside Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied, assuming it hasn’t achieved pleb status already.  I take a slightly different opinion and one of the reasons why is because it makes for a fascinating comparison of crazy people.  There are plenty of Shinkawa level madmen running around in Akame ga Kill, though they at least can usually justify their behavior under the guise of rampant corruption.  Some of the more important characters however, are indeed insane and have very good reason to be so.  The four people who fall under this category best are Esdeath, Kurome, Seryu and Sheele.  Let’s start with Seryu.  Seryu has gone crazy for a couple of reasons.  First off she has lost many people who are important to her in a relatively short span of time.  That alone can drive people mad and it would be fine as a reason.  The other is that her teacher and patron are both pretty crazy themselves, though they are of the Shinkawa variety, and this has an influence on Seryu.  Seryu is essentially a girl who has been broken and has only the twisted teachings of her mentors and her personal sense of justice to keep her going.  You can see the dichotomy of her personality in how she defines justice and law.  Seryu equates justice with purity and law with punishment.  That’s why she can squeal like a little girl over cute innocent children and brutally murder adults that have committed even a minor crime. To her the just are people to be protected and the unjust threats to be eliminated.  And who can blame her really?  Her experience with injustice is not petty thievery, it’s always meant the loss of someone precious for her.  Therefore when she judges evil she reacts with extreme prejudice.  Everything about Seryu is broken because her entire past has shaped her that way, that makes her compelling in her own way and while I never did like her character, I can at least appreciate the craftsmanship that went into it.  Sheele and Esdeath are just as broken as Seryu but in a totally different way.

If you look closely Esdeath and Sheele have almost the exact same strengths and problems, and Esdeath simply has more pronounced versions of both because of where she grew up.  Both Sheele and Esdeath lack some fundamental piece of humanity and neither has any non-violent skills.  Both are natural born killers, and the differences between them appear largely thanks to geography.  Sheele excels at killing people because she has always been surrounded by people and her first kills were human.  Esdeath by comparison excels killing monsters, which translates to slaughtering swathes of humans, because she was raised in a tribe that hunted monsters for a living.  At first glance, simply lacking a piece of humanity, looks to be the same as Shinkawa’s “insane because plot” but it works out a little differently.  Unlike Shinkawa, whose insanity has no thematic meaning, the cases of Esdeath and Sheele have implications about the human condition and the true nature of humanity.  The two are almost poster children for a theoretical nature versus nurture argument if nothing else.  Akame ga Kill never bothers to answer the questions posed by Sheele and Esdeath but then again neither has the scientific community so there you go.  Overall this style of crazy lacks the easy progression of insanity found in Seiryu but it has a potency of its own nonetheless.  By far the best psycho in Akame ga Kill though, is Kurome.

Kurome is similar to Makishima in that her moral values are so far removed from normal that we can only classify her as insane, even though she is relatively lucid and intelligent.  Now when she’s introduced her most noticeable trait is that she wants to kill her sister, which sounds bat shit insane.  It’s only explained much later that she can both resurrect people and is dying.  It’s also revealed just how heavily she relied on Akame growing up in the assassin training program.  So looking at her story in total, she’s not so much mad as she is desperate and uncaring, and somewhat reasonably so since she has a looming expiration date.  Kurome, since she’s dying and can’t stop that process, feels vulnerable much like she did when she was a little girl.  She needs her sister to comfort and reassure her but because Akame has run away and betrayed the Empire, Kurome’s only recourse is to kill her and then revive her with Yastufusa.  That makes Kurome’s desires and attitudes no less fucked up, but given her past and current situation it makes her understandable.  There is a clear chain of logic behind Kurome’s insane actions and beliefs, it just so happens that the foundations to which that chain is anchored are warped beyond recognition.  Kurome is definitely insane but looking at her backstory how couldn’t she be?  She was raised as an assassin from a young age.  And sure Akame went through the same thing and came out sane but that was only because she had the time to understand herself, her actions, and how to fix them.  But time was something Kurome had in very short supply, so it’s no wonder she stays insane.  Long story short, Kurome is a very compelling psycho because she has good reason to be psycho and the audience has been given the information to understand why she is psycho.

And that wraps up this post.  The only other kind of maniac I can think of is the battle maniac but they operate by a different set of rules from psychos so that would be a post for another time (it’s now available here).  I hope you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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