Make no mistake, Kuroshitsuji is Ciel’s story in every sense. Sebastian is a co-lead, certainly, but his role here is more or less written – it’s Ciel’s which continues to write itself as the story progresses. I’ve said this before, but Kuroshitsuji is primarily a tale of victimization. It splits the world into two camps, victims and those who exploit them, and in most cases it’s pretty easy to tell which group each character belongs to. And when characters try to claw their way from the first group into the second, we invariably get tragedy – tragedy like the story of the Noah’s Ark orphans. There can be no doubt that they were victims of society’s cruelty (this episode alone reveals the full extent) yet they made victims out of scores of other children thinking it was the toll required to stop being victims themselves
Another anime review of Kuroshitsuji Circus Hen by Lostinanime so I thought I would share 🙂
As usual this post will be MAJOR SPOILER inducing and will SPOILERS for all Kuroshitsuji media like 1st TV series, manga, and 2nd TV series with the new series which is actually an extension of the first TV series story-line in both manga and anime.
I know I didn’t do a whole series review. It will take time for me to do that. I was on vacation last week and I hadn’t properly seen the whole 10 episode series of this story arc yet. Those of you who know Kuroshitsuji know that Circus Hen or that Book of Circus is one of the most crucial story arcs in the Kuroshitsuji main manga and anime. The manga is not finished yet but this is one of the most riveting, dark, sad and alarmingly unpleasant story arcs in the main story line. I give Yana Toboso props for writing this arc because I think it was not easy for her. Also, this non-ease is illustrated by being introduced to so-called “antagonists” that many fans of the series and also manga had grown to love and also empathize with. Though we had this already with Madam Red I think it got exponentially bigger with the Noah’s Ark Circus troupe.
I am not really telling the story of Circus Hen because it is available in full form in Kuroshitsuji Wiki and also a good synopsis is available in Wikipedia. Let me just say the Circus Hen introduces some characters who unfortunately do not stay with us in the long run and some others who are better off dead and buried under tons and tons of brick. Others I know I will miss a lot like really a lot because they are the embodiment of a form of nobility you don’t inherit. Basically it is a mission Phantomhive is handed that elucidates and exposes that Ciel underwent when he was 10 and a weirdass fetishist guy called Baron Kelvin who wants something that only Ciel can give (apparently at the end he can’t). The Circus, Noah’s Ark Circus, is made up of people like Joker, Beast, Jumbo, Doll, Dagger, etc who are kidnapping children for Baron Kelvin. It also introduces another fetishist called the Doctor who is severely and disturbingly into body modification. All these characters save Snake die brutal deaths. Joker and Doll, in my opinion, really did not deserve them because they are really good people who got stuck with the bad lot. I know the others are not bad people either but the high wire trope were becoming too systematized into killing and hurting so it’s not that they deserved death (I am never gonna be a fit person to say anyone fictional or otherwise did though some atrocious individuals are unanimously agreed by fans that they are better off rotting) but I think as they died in battle with Phantomhive’s army (his other servants) it was just the situation that made their deaths acceptable enough. I do feel bad for both of them as to me both parties were used as pawns rather than individuals. That was the most painful bit for me. I think if all of them, Phatomhive’s army and the Circus troupe, got together they would know how similar they were.
I think there are 2 reasons why the first adaptation did not have this story included with the canon first TV series (not that 2nd series is not canon but the 1st is actually more manga involved and follows the Toboso’s original stories pretty much on the dot). First, it is technicality. Book of Circus is an arc that has more spoilers than many arcs, and it is very long (this series had 10 episodes devoted to it). If you want a viewing audience to want suspense at what happened or going to happen to Ciel Book of Circus is too telling in a way. It also elevated the Undertaker’s role more than previously shown (which I really liked) and depicted a lot that could not be shown in the first anime TV series. It would probably lengthen the 26 episode structure and I think as that is the standard anime set the producers decided why not. Also as the manga is not even finished now it wasn’t the right choice to put so much information in.
I think the second reason is more important. Book of Circus shows a very nasty and bad side of Ciel. In fact many people hated Ciel’s behaviour in Circus Hen where he is culpable for mass murder, emotional manipulation and blackmail of a more or less an innocent and does pretty much malicious things. In the first TV series Ciel was depicted almost as a textbook victim and a classic apathetic type individual who due to facing torture and losing so much (mostly his childhood innocence) was molded into more or less a cold, calculating coerced adult sort of creature who did not truly like himself or what he did but managed to survive on some form of idea concerning getting revenge. His childishness remained, however, as he never truly suspected the Queen, the person he followed, to be the very person responsible for the crimes committed against him.
Ciel is very aloof and cold in Circus Hen and no one really questions him because no one really knows him and Sebastian is not really a type to question; as a demon, like Ryuk the Shinigami in Death Note, his task is to be amused and help Ciel accomplish his goals. Those goals are limited but that is what Toboso unknowingly perhaps shows — demons are more limited creatures than humans. True, Sebastian is physically very strong and has lot of finesse and skill but as he is a demon he is always contract bound and has to be loyal to Ciel without much question. Ciel is very detached in Circus Hen and this is how Toboso shows the nature of his abused self and his fears and terrors. As I never read the manga I did not know that Ciel had a great aversion for blood due to being always around it and bathed in his own when he was sold as a “pet” to a perverse cult that enjoyed sadism performed on children. But in Circus Hen anime it is horribly shown that any form of bloodiness really upsets Ciel. Also it was mentioned by fans who read the manga that Ciel hated being touched also because what the cult did. And he also suffers from asthma. We see all of these in Circus Hen anime adaptation.
It is a good thing that Circus Hen was adapted later (for me it’s ok either way) because Circus Hen is actually a very weighty and dark arc in the series and as many fans disliked what Ciel did that reaction was a reason that people promoting the anime series would want it excluded so that when people see in development that Ciel does grow it would be easier to digest. Actually from what I read from fans in a forum Ciel does visually regret his actions in Circus Hen as in later chapters he is shown to be more quiet and reserved and somewhat shaken. I think the first TV series was also aimed with making Ciel and Sebastian more consistent in the usual anime fair from what I read on fans reaction on the manga it is not always like that in the anime as Ciel and Sebastian do act a bit more erratically there. Circus Hen adaptation did however bring some manga bones into the story because apparently Sebastian is always teasing Ciel and making even at times condescending remarks at him which is very absent in the 1st TV series and also 2nd TV series (with the 2nd series much had happened so Sebastian probably thought it wiser to keep his mouth shut).
But in this anime finale Ciel has another minor breakdown and Sebastian really can’t soothe him (it seems demons do not know basic human behaviour as shown at how Sebastian was a bad cook when he started working for Ciel as human taste alluded him so he had learn what it might be). The first breakdown in Ciel is deviating from what the Queen ordered him to do which also made fans and me to a certain degree angry and kinda disappointed — he decides to burn all the children kidnapped by the circus and Kelvin mansion as he could not see his old torture chamber replicated. This was done with the breaking point of Kelvin’s Doctor started replicating the torture he faced on another child (in an earlier episode of this series it was shown that she was a flower girl that was kidnapped; it was very sad seeing her cheerful and laughing face become well dull, automaton lifeless. I seriously wondered what happened to these poor children). Ciel could not bear it any longer. Seeing all of these brought the 13 year old back to his memories when he was tortured and almost left for dead when he was 10 by a cult who really were a bunch of fuckers that should rot in hell. Sebastian as a demon loves debilitation and destruction so he only mentions once that Ciel is deviating from what the Queen had ordered so but then Ciel persists in using his pentagram seal that he wants this and Sebastian is contract bound, well the demon puts the place on fire and does what he is told.
Ciel later after everything is over mentions that he was totally broken when was stabbed and tortured on the slab (the same thing that happened to the flower girl in Episode 9) pretty much indicating that this was his breaking point again. Ironically, Sebastian seems pretty non-creative or rather wants Ciel to gain his revenge a bit by engulfing the manor in flames the same way that Ciel’s own manor was engulfed in flames on his 10th birthday destroying his family and life. Probably, it was to make Ciel forget that he had lost so much but it was pretty generic way to destroy a manor.
This is one of the first times in the Kuroshitsuji media that Sebastian is shown to be useless to Ciel’s actual well being. Truthfully, it is subtly there in every crucial arc. Sebastian really does not know what’s best for Ciel and that is because he is a contract demon so it is not in his nature to know basic emotions and ethics; he may mock them but does not truly know them. Also wanting to eat a soul is never really the best for anyone; I think we can get a universal consensus on that. That is why demons can only approach really abused and depressed individuals who are so muddled that they are not in their right minds when they make contracts such as this. Of course both Ciel and Sebastian have major evolution in the 2nd TV series. Ciel becomes more astute, forgiving and well matured and finally as a demon he feels he can finally escape who he is and actually live a full life (not scream at Sebastian to come devour his soul which was kinda kiddy but yeah I think by doing this the show reminds us that Ciel is still a kid). Though Sebastian still is contract bound and I did not enjoy Ciel being so awful behaved and belligerently teasing Sebastian about it what I did like is that both of them had a definite evolution on who and what they are. It is true by the end of 2nd TV series Ciel had lost all those who was important to him in a way and I felt really sad at the sudden loss of others of him as well but given his life it was obvious that he could not be with them anymore. I think this was also there when he had finished his revenge so maybe Ciel knew that it was impossible for him to keep what he once had but ironically he could have it partly if not all but given that the Queen wanted him dead and all the trials that he faced it was really evident that being Earl Phantomhive was useless. Ciel may have had Elizabeth’s love forever and maybe have married her but yeah he could not keep his title as noble society was against Phantomhive.
Going back to Circus Hen, what fans really hated, as did I, that Ciel ordered Sebastian to kill Doll/Freckles. It is actually the worst thing Ciel ever did in his life. I think he realizes this later because by the 2nd TV series Ciel has become in many ways like Doll by the end. In the manga, I read in Kuroshitsuji Wiki, Ciel is more cruel to Doll. When she arrives seeing the mansion burning she tries to hold Ciel and asked what happened but Ciel pushes her away and I think meanly say that he had killed all her loved ones. In this anime, however, Ciel’s breakdown rage is omitted to show that Ciel is pretty numb and devastated that in his broken state when Doll in rage and sorrow charges head on with a dagger to attack him he just mentions Sebastian indicating that he wants her dead. Of course, he was in Sebastian’s arms all this time. And he admitted to Doll that his Smile persona was a lie and all the emotions associated with it but I deduce that he was partly lying. Like Alois/Jim in the 2nd TV series Ciel is still at that point where he can’t accept genuine affection from people as Toboso had once said about Alois/Jim that it is very hard for an abused and tortured person, downright scary, to see actual and genuine love and warmth. And in his really messed up state he asks Doll to be killed which is very cruel. I did wish that Doll had survived. I really liked her. Maybe, she is still alive? After all we never do see her dead as we see the others. Of course of the main circus crew Snake is the only one who is alive. In the manga Ciel says cruelly that he employs Snake as a butler in his household for a “pet” effect because he never tells Snake that the others are dead. In the anime they didn’t show this as of yet but fans mention that Ciel actually is hiding his real emotions (as usual). Due to his actions he had employed Snake as a form of reprieve because he was responsible of killing the others. A fan mentioned that this may be also he felt excruciating misery for killing Doll for Doll did genuinely care about him. Doll really reminded me of the demon Hannah who became so akin to human and fell deeply in love with Luca and Jim that she just wanted to be a family with them.
I really mourn for Doll and Joker for these characters really got to me. Joker said that he knew he was doing something wrong but he just couldn’t bear poverty and destitution anymore especially for his friends and other children at the workhouse. Nobles make an unfair and discrepant society and then use the manhandled to do their dirty work. Joker is more of a victim than Ciel but like Ciel and Jim they are more alike than each party care to know and acknowledge. Unfortunately, Joker does not really get what happened to Ciel but hearing the Baron finally reveal it, I think he did feel sorry for him but the situation is that that all parties are too acclimatized to their abuse. That is why I got mad that Ciel said indirectly that he killing Joker is nothing personal and that it was natural for him to want to protect what he loved. But the world exists for the sake of stealing and being stolen from, according to Ciel Phantomhive (:/), and that these two sorts of people can only exist, so, it is without any malice that Ciel says he steals their futures now. That is pretty pathetic coming for a guy who made revenge his only goal in life to reclaim some of the dignity he had lost. By saying that Ciel don’t you realize how stupid you are sounding? Then what will living for revenge even accomplish seeing that you are going to, according to your logic, lose your dignity again right for if you steal back something that can again be stolen then why sell your soul to a demon for something like that for even your satiation of it was short lived? Yeah, a kid in adult clothing, a poor tortured kid. By this time Joker is so demoralised that he hardly can question what Ciel has spoken. To be honest, Joker is so much like Ciel in the abused department that I can understand his despair and sadness very much. I think what angered me a lot, but was expected given the situations these individuals faced (and as Jim/Alois also faced), is that Ciel doesn’t recognize that both he and Joker are the same. They were both pawns who were used (Ciel still being used) as an entertainment or tool for those mirthless, lifeless pieces of shit nobles.
I think for Toboso Circus Hen was a treatise to what the abused, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and physically go through. They are so confused, upset and scarred that they do fail to recognize the humanity that they themselves have in others. As I said Toboso wrote beautifully this arc, this is to me the most beautiful arc of the series (aside the Jim/Alois storyline) because by the end of it Ciel has become aware what a flawed and broken individual he really is. Without such an epiphany it would be really difficult for him to start growing up. And as this arc was, as I learned from Kuroshitsuji Wiki or I think some other site, after the Curry Challenge episodes, we do see Ciel gestate a different kind of attitude by the end. In flashbacks, we also see the Jack the Ripper arc where Ciel faces Madam Red — I think aside fandom pleasing the flashback also served as a method to show the levels of Ciel hardening his heart. Sebastian is obviously fascinated that when he mentions that Ciel should not feel sad about Madam Red’s death but Ciel, shocking Sebastian, had said that he was not sad as Madam Red is just like a learning experience (:/) and that she got what was coming to basically. Sebastian becomes really delighted and we are shown a motif with Ciel in what feels like a British style of Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa anyway :)) and the voice over of Sebastian says that Ciel will trample over anyone and everyone,(we are shown pictures of a bloodied and fallen Elizabeth, his army even Prince Soma), to get to his goals and that is also what is beautiful (well to Sebastian) about him.
Ironically, by the 1st TV series and the 2nd TV Series end we see that Ciel did the opposite of everything Sebastian had anticipated. By that time the Great Fire of London was incorporated also to Ciel’s ascension out of the Queen’s trap and live for himself for once. And his aims became almost heroic and selfless because in the end he also did want to stop London from burning down. In the 2nd TV series Ciel does leave to start a new life not reminiscent of his one tied to a duplicitous monarchy. Thus he did everything in a bit of reverse of what he was blinded by at first. Ciel is by the end of the series more attuned to who is and what he wants: he wanted freedom from his abuses and the person in relation to those abuses. His title did still link to that terrible position in which he would always be targeted so he happily resigned it. The Phantomhive name which he wanted to restore actually became meaningless because now he wanted to live solely for his own individuality. That is one of the best charter progress for a person ensnared by abuse and revenge. Circus Hen is one of the aspects that enabled Ciel to think more differently about who and what he is because obviously he felt something strong both in resentment but also empathy about the troupe. They were lost souls like him and maybe that is why it was so hard to actually face them.
Going back, Ciel may have hidden most of his actual feelings concerning Madam Red because in her casket he had repeated affectionately what his father had once told her — that her hair like licorice burning in the sunshine (as seen in the 1st TV series). But going back to Circus Hen this dream of Madam Red is sort of instrumental to the coming events that Ciel will partake in. Ciel shows almost the same exterior regarding the death of the Circus and the children. However, this time he does make a more stable contribution for his actions. I think the anime added and rather elaborated what Toboso wrote because fans were also quite angry (well, I was really disappointed too) about what Ciel said concerning the death of the children. Well, we are shown he is affected by their deaths but as usual decides to be quiet about his feelings — yet looks on an young girl selling oranges whilst getting on a train and says to Sebastian to buy one. This train is going to the workhouse that Joker and the others felt compelled to protect. In the journey Ciel felt that the children would not recover from the strain that they experienced. He felt this as he was once in their position, and on the slab when he was brutally impaled, when he felt completely broken he made that contract with a demon. That was what he felt made him recover as he now had something, someone that his as he puts it “mine” and he was able to work through a recovery. Well, Sebastian was the only demon there. The children were young and would never be normal. Sebastian smiles and says that his deduction is arrogant. Ciel says that though he is arrogant, he is not arrogant enough to believe that he can save those children from what they endured.
Fans were still outraged by this. To be honest that is a pitiful deduction. It is, I think Toboso’s way of showing Ciel as still immature and a very traumatized child, because only a child will focus so deeply that the universe seems to revolve solely around them. Because fans made a right explanation — not all people need the demon contract to survive, not all people would need Ciel to recover and they could do these things on their own. Ciel was acting as a mutilated child when he spoke. Deep inside him his ideals of being noble hero were squashed against a psychological dilemma that didn’t rupture in time (that is why the OVA depicting him as Hamlet is spot on). Of course, the workhouse was not taken care of by Baron Kelvin and it fell to ruin. Seeing this really disturbs and shocks Ciel to the core.
This is when poor Ciel has another breakdown laughing maniacally he says to Sebastian that the troupe was protecting something that did not exist. Vile, stupid and struggling desperately to attain unattainable, that is what Ciel thinks humans are and says so to Sebastian. Who seemingly agrees, but not fully. Ciel’s hat’s ribbon becomes suddenly loose and flutters away in the wind. Sebastian also makes no real attempt to catch it. Both he and Ciel seem confused and befuddled. The black ribbon goes in the air and images of a happy Joker coming and bowing are shown then the rest of the troupe doing their specialties are shown happily together. Ciel looks on, in what feels a mixture mourning and amazement, the gravity of both makes his face cast a shadow, with his lips open, mouth slightly hanging, of something akin impenetrable gloom. Suddenly Doll comes first also dressed in her altered costume of white then all the Noah’s Ark Circus individuals become as they were without their body modifications. True beauty in what they originally were. And Doll also unspoiled by prosthetic tampering runs towards them and is accepted by her family. Sebastian agrees that humans are more complicated than demons. They possess ludicrous dreams, make endless excuses and do a lot of vile things to get what they want or desperately try to get what they want but somehow they can also recover, come back or do something more unexpected than before that is why they are also interesting. As the black ribbon flutters, which suggested the gravity of mourning and it was beautifully done truly, Circus Hen anime ends with Sebastian smiling as he realizes that humans are always interesting.
When Ciel had Sebastian kill Doll/Freckles The Undertaker was nearby. And he chastised Ciel in monologue for his actions. Saying that he has warned Ciel that he must take care of his soul, because everyone is given one. He had told Ciel not to abuse his power time again and again. But he has. And this will be detrimental to no one but Ciel. He will realize what he has lost only after it has been extinguished, when it crumbles and decays. And so The Undertaker rightfully stated that Ciel is his own demise, or rather the path leading to his own demise. Because he decides not to actually think before he does actions (as seen he is completely blank at the moment) and that is why he will lose more and more until he has nothing. Of course, at that moment Ciel did not recognize this. But the end of the 2nd TV series we see that when Ciel is turned into a demon he does realize that he had been undone by no one but himself. It was probably very painful for him to leave everyone behind but he had no other choice anymore. Yet, one think The Undertaker was wrong about that Ciel has now even both as a human and a demon got some enlightenment in his understanding of things. Probably he now knows that his soul is very important and when Sebastian and Ciel jump into the void he does want a more ideal and a more empathetic world and wants it more than anything. And he had seen it, slivers of it, in Jim who he ultimately accepted as an image of his own. An image he won’t ever erase. Jim may also have wanted him to be a demon not only as revenge on Clause and Sebastian choosing Ciel as a favourite dish but also to free Ciel from his contract. Jim is evidence of the great God Given adaptability of humans that demons truly lack.
In Circus Hen I felt really sad that Joker died. Joker is the irreducible protagonist/antagonist of this arc. I really understood why fans love him as I grew him to love him too. His death left a very deep impression on me as characters can do. I felt an inexplicable pain. Seeing his sadness, rage and also helplessness at being used as a pawn and being bled to death was so anguishing for me. Ironically, he is the true noble of all the series combined. Because he was loyal and tried his best to help people but he was guilt stricken at what he had to do because he reluctantly did those things. I think that is why he could not have a love with Beast (on side note: Sebastian having sex with Beast was pretty unexpected and how casually he does not take off much kind of shows that to Sebastian seduction and sex is purely business :P) because she can only think of running away. Joker could not run away. As it shows in his flashback that being in the manor Joker conceives that humans will always be dissatisfied because Dagger looked unhappy though they were not living the gutter anymore. But Dagger wanted to play but was lacking a leg to run about. But then Jumbo helped him up and they could run along and play. We see an intimate moment with Joker and Beast, almost close to touching hands distance, where Joker comments if he hand another arm he could carry her. This line is symbolic for Joker because that is what he is about; he has been carrying the burden and responsibility of all the people who relied on him. That is why he could not reciprocate Beats;s affections because she did not get this about him I assume. She was thinking that they should run away but Joker could not because he was already so intensely involved with his troupe, his family, running away would be a betrayal to them to handle the burdens by themselves. And he was not of a character to do so.
Joker is one of the most heroic characters in the series. I think Ciel becomes almost like him in the end. Joker is truly one of the most memorable characters in the series and I do love him a lot. I love his strength and his redemptive qualities. I love how beautifully deep down he is kind and contemplative, and socially aware. That is why sadly the nursery rhyme of Tom the piper of only being able to play over the hills and far away is associated with him and the Circus. They were not analytical (a fault Ciel too has) that what was happening to them, how their prosthetic were made from the children bones they had abducted how Kelvin gave jackshit about them and how if he had done more he might be able to have peace. I really think if Toboso continued his storyline it would have been beautiful because he is much like a cool protagonist, at times more than Ciel.
This arc really sheds a lot on human apathy and empathy, and it was also a critique of society and social injustice. Toboso really did well writing this arc as it was poignant and something that stays with you. Ciel made a huge mistake by listening to much to the Queen and the Noah’s Ark Circus’s demise is evidence of it. Now he has to pay the price, as The Undertaker stated, for thinking too callously and presumably rationally and not emotionally. And those acquainted with the Kuroshitsuji 1st and 2nd TV series know that he does. Yet he also matures from it. When he sees the black ribbon floating and the Circus troupe Ciel is seized a great sadness. Maybe he realizes then what he had done. After all isn’t his goals also as worthless as what the Circus had>? To protect a house is also his cause and so he too realizes what they would have realized later or more so if they had been introspective that they were being used so their ideals and dreams are better off put somewhere else.
I really loved the ending theme of Circus Hen anime. In some parts Ciel is animated almost with an adultish sort of body or what anime characters 17 and older have (maybe they did try to aesthetically make Ciel look more adult) but the ballad in darkness in a bathtub is a great touch. Over all as an extension of the first series I really loved Circus Hen. One prominent difference about this series compared to 2nd TV series is that it had less shounen-ai which is good in my opinion but it was still there. Not just copious amounts that disturbed the flow. It had all the makings of a great story arc. I do not why they took 4 years to animate it though as the 2nd TV series was in 2010 and we only got OVAs after that. One question:
What is Ciel and Sebastian’s outcome after the 2nd TV series? I am more interested on that. Though Toboso was involved in the 2nd TV series it wasn’t her original idea and according to the Kuroshitsuji Wiki she had mentioned that if the 2nd TV series happened not to pretend that the first didn’t happen and that is what the producers did. The 2nd Tv series is connected to the first and that is how it also progressed.
I am very curious and hopefully God let me watch what happens to Ciel afterwards. C’mon I really want to see what Ciel and Sebastian do after the 2nd TV series so people start animating it already! And hopefully we all get to see it soon! 😀
The entire 2nd TV series was building up to this moment. The moment Haruka would snap. It wasn’t easy to watch. Yet, also the entire episode was geared on it exponentially. This was episode 9.
It made me really sad. It was cathartic as a visual medium and storytelling apparatus. I was really engrossed by his mental exhaustion. So much so that I actually didn’t want to see the stretch. I decided to wait and pull into what I saw disaster coming this way and it was awful.
Like Haruka I too stared in completely amazement, as he limpidly stared into the glossy lights of the swimming arena blankly as though caught in an asphyxiating tremor, not weakness but not strength, just numbness. I knew it — he can’t take pressure. That is a flaw but not to deride him: it is the most human thing elaborated with both visuals and Haruka’s face hanging in defeat (as rinsbae in Tumblr also noted). Haruka had a mental breakdown. It was cleanly understood. He just couldn’t take the pressure. Everyone was down on his throat about his freestyle swimming and it got to him. The propensity of the pressure they gave him was too much. From his school principal, to Rin and his teammates, to teachers to random scouts — everyone was thinking that Haru was a swimming machine and they just wanted to see him perform. And it got to Haruka. He always stated that “free” even short for his style and short for “freedom” was the way he swam. It is not that in competitions he didn’t feel pressure it was still amicable pressure. It was when his entire existence was just bounded, as in being defined by others as only a thing he had to do nor else it made no sense, to his “freestyle” then it lost its freedom. It became really corrupted to him. It became something vicarious and not something that he himself understood as his own, as his self, it became a projection alone as a trick. Haruka never swam for that. To him swimming was both aesthetic, talent but also empathy and a portion of his soul transmuted. It just lost that integrity when the pressure to perform came in.
Even the genius hurts and gets defeated when encountered with such negative social icons of perfection.
Such pressure to perform to an angle that is “full” not “fullest” but rather typed on as something like technical, technicality and reduced to the methodology of technique alone made Haruka lose it. Everyone felt that he could succeed and that success is very well, only defined, by the scouts’s eyes beholding that image of excellence rather than all the emotions, efforts, energy and sweet exhaustion that prepares and is parcel to the entirety of the art. Haruka felt reduced to a mechanical image. Like a wind-up doll he felt meaning castigated, chastised his soul made into a minimal binary of “performing well” and “not performing well” — in that moment, swimming lost meaning to him as something he bonded and became bonded to; it just became a game, a series of performances. Ironically, Judith Butler would call this “performativity” and I go with that theoretical and philosophical practice. It became difficult for Haruka to process his feelings, all his life, from the first season he had a tenacity, a firmness, to love water but also be ordinary. It was crucial to him not to be determined as a prodigy. Maybe, one will say he is a loser but to him the prodigious title was encapsulated with problems. It did not make an appealing gesture, it brought an attention to him, a mechanical and detached attention rather than an enormous empathetic one. To him competition was an event that made him win affection, bonds and a sense of camaraderie-ship with his friends. Swimming was always that to him and competitions expanded that sequence of events, perhaps not chronologically yet astute and enabled his need to breathe and be calm and live a full life.
Swimming had lost that when it became only a sport. Only something that just defined him as an athlete but not a person. It became a lose and cheap term for him. He also got horribly afraid. This was not something he wanted. Not something he was prepared for; the territory and the way it was expressed was not him. He got naturally afraid and did not know this water, this water of only being a sporty person or oriented only in sports. His prodigy is not limited only to performances. So, he got tired and stopped. He was afraid and also this scouting thing made him feel less of what he was. It just made him sad.
Running, it is painfully obvious how this is getting to him:
So, he stopped.
The nightmare that Haruka had was equally terrifying and expressive of performance and what is integral. Like overactive enthusiasm and logical theory it makes him feel claustrophobic and feel wooden. It was very nicely done to explain his psychological state:
This part was a very good development of a character. It was both telling of him and telling of socio-economic and socio-cultural norms that are and should be open to critique. Is an athlete only a name, a performance and a title? To Haruka it was not. Water and understanding water is a large part of his life in fact from the Free! Wiki you can read the director say that water is a vehicle of expression for him. It was a way he communicates. He did not want his communication to be only treated as something like this; something just as a race to determine fastest or slowest. That is why he communicated a breakdown. He stood still. His watery tongue was dry and could not reach his kinesis and state of being.
Haruka Nanase had a mental breakdown.
Was it necessary? Yeah clean as day and night it was. Everyone was so excited that Haruka was a dream of potential success. No one asked if Haruka wanted that kind of success and that kind of exposure. Makoto never asked directly and sure as hell Rin didn’t either. Haruka is subtle — his face in silence makes small ripples and in those silent ripples his body language also moves and wrinkles what he feels. Haruka did not know what to feel because everyone is counting on him to make an impression. But to Haruka he doesn’t want to make one. It is tiring doing that.
In Tumblr many had made gifs, graphics out of this and I remember lingering on a set of images showing Haruka stopping and Rin blinking and interspersed with the confrontation they have at the end. It was heartbreaking to watch a genius, a human character to lose in something that he so passionately loved all because of pressure and apathetic views and intentions of treating him as a performance. It really got me.
With this I think the story wants to question if someone’s love for a sport is just a fancy consumption? Shouldn’t people ask what and why they do so elegantly a sport or an art or a science and actually be understood as whole individuals whose success is not truly always a title but rather also a universe of their own, sacred God-given right to explore and know themselves and others. It is the human element that seems to be askew or replaced by just a perfunctory need to consume brilliance. This brilliance lives short. Like a firefly or butterfly destines to die with so many probabilities of feeling incomplete coerced brilliance makes a beauty into a capital, a taxation of exhaustion and defeat. The Tumblr user yannychigi also beautifully wrote on this:
Can I just give my two cents on this one.
To Haruka, he and the water share a bond no person can ever hope to understand- intimate but based on respect.
What I’ve noticed is that the water is like some sort of mirror. It shapes into form based on the feelings of whoever enters it’s territory.
In this case. Haru.
When Haru’s mind was clear and free of any doubts or insecurities, the water danced with him. Every swish, every splash collided with Haru’s movements.
And it was beautiful.
But during the regionals…
Haru was in darkness. So the water mirrored his heart.
Because there was hesitation and fear…the water hesitated as well.
Instead of syncing with Haru’s swimming, it became the chains that binded Haru to a hault.
And so Haru stopped.
And the chains were no more.
It was almost like the water itself wanted to tell Haru…
“You’re heart is not Free”
“That’s enough, Haru”
“Don’t struggle anymore”
In the entire series, both Free! Iwatobi Swim Club and Free!Eternal Summer, you have never seen Haruka break this badly. Or get mad so furiously. When Rin wants an answer, when Rin wants to know how could he just throw away his future — Haruka just snaps some more and becomes volatile. He just can’t take this impending question of future and a potency of what might be termed as “prodigious future” because to him it feels lifeless, antagonizing and thoroughly not him.
Though we are very close to the end. This was riveting. It was very hard to watch but also very important to the narratives of everything. What do these young men want? What do they need? Rin was at failure to understand that he had trained for this challenge and this moment for almost all of his life. Haruka hadn’t. Haruka may be a genius but his life has run along pretty smoothly till now. What so-called ordinary people may not find challenging prodigies can find frustrating, bothersome and many a times defeating. Haruka did things with ease so a challenge like this was also something he never faced before. Things came to him easily enough just not this. It was very difficult for him to understand this. It was him reaching a point he didn’t before. It was scary, confusing and he didn’t know who to ask to help him. It just happens to be something that he couldn’t overcome at the moment.
It might be pathetic but it’s real. Haruka may be using a bit of escapism but I understand him. Humans are not trained for perfection. They are more inclined for error. It was egregious for everyone to heap all their little toxic bag of expectations on Haruka it was also a limit on him and a non-skill in him to not be dexterous about this. He could have just swam and not care about if he came second or third — he could have swam at his own pace and be happy that what he was feeling regularly or the feelings most intimate to him: loving the feel, heart, texture and mobility of water. But of course he did not know that. Haruka is not really prominent troubleshooter. We have seen this earlier when Nagisa showed up and he couldn’t do much or even recognise that Nagisa is feeling troubled. It is good that by showing this Haruka may have broken the “Mary Sue/Gary Stu” position he had with most people who knew him (audience included). Not to mention he seems a bit repenting about the situation as he feels he let his friends down. Maybe, he also feels he let himself down too. A situation like this is very painful.
Will Haruka get out of this? Maybe, but I had said earlier that even if Haruka did nor fully get into swimming competitively it did not mean anything because he will still be a great, prodigious athletic swimmer. In fact, he could get into professional swimming and also leave it after he felt it satisfied his cravings and be a chief or something else as the chief avatar we see him in the ending theme “Future Fish”.
What matters is that we are being broken out of the idyllic for and of Haruka’s character. All of this has made him more human and more relatable and more of a person than a frigid character. It added layers to other distinct parts of him.
For that I am happy that they took this route — it was very sad and empathetic, very heartbreaking seeing him like that vulnerable and tired and I respected that he did what was honest of him.
Haruka Nanase is growing up. Maturing into a more substantial personal character.
* I know I said I might do an episode by episode summary and analysis but it is getting difficult. I might just do a full review. However, I was writing about episode 2 individually so I might put that up. I am sorry if I disappointed anyone though.