Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 10 – Moving Past the Hate

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.—Matthew 5:38-39

One day, a serious young woman named Hayama Chihiro approaches Makoto at his fruit stand, shows him a photo of a young man, and flatly asks him to ruin that guy’s knee. Makoto learns why: a year ago the young man, Otokawa Eiji, kneecapped her brother Tsukasa and robbed him.

For all of ¥3,000, Tsukasa’s dream of opening his own restaurant was crushed along with his knee. Since Eiji was a minor, he got seven months in juvie, and is now wandering free. Chihiro has been tailing “the beast”, as she calls him, ever since his release, and now wants him to suffer as her brother suffers. A knee for a knee!

Makoto remarks that if Chihiro were okay with Eiji’s knee being smashed, she’d be no less of a beast that her brother’s attacker. But as with so many other issues with Makoto becomes entangled, there is much more information to be learned before a final decision is made. To that end, he contacts one of his mates, Chief Rei.

When Rei calls back, Makoto has tracked down Chihiro, who is watching Eiji at an arcade. He lends her one of his earbuds and they listen together as Rei goes over the particulars of the crime. Eiji was being extorted by a group of bullies in high school, and was warned to secure the money (any amount) by the day after the attack, or they’d ruin his knee.

Eiji only attacked Tsukasa because he needed money to give to the bullies, but only he was convicted and sent to juvie for the attack, while the bullies only received a scolding. As Chihiro learns more about Eiji and the context of the attack, her once pure and unwavering hatred suddenly becomes diluted with pity for the kid’s situation, and guilt for nearly making it worse. Now she’s not so sure she wants Eiji attacked.

Now that Makoto knows Chihiro’s feelings on the matter, he wants to know those of Eiji’s victim, her brother Tsukasa. Makoto visits to their home under the guise of Chihiro introducing a new boyfriend. Chihiro’s reaction to Makoto’s suit is priceless. Tsukasa is voiced by Ishida Akira, a seiyu so very skilled at projecting the vulnerability of his characters and the weight they carry.

Tsukasa admits that for a long time he thought about finding and stabbing Eiji for what he did, but when he stops to think about what that would make him, his certainty and thirst for such revenge wavers just like his sister’s. Now he feels it would be better if he were to meet Eiji, look him in the eye, and talk to him about what happened.

If Tsukasa did that, he could learn whether Eiji was a “beast” or just a human (the vast majority of criminals being the latter). If he learned Eiji was the latter, his hatred would subside. Above all, Tsukasa doesn’t want to “stand in a  place of hatred” forever. He wants to move past it, and into “tomorrow.”

Tsukasa’s noble words move Makoto to arrange just such a meeting. In order to get Eiji to agree, he offers membership into the G-Boys. To both Eiji and Makoto’s surprise, Takashi shows up with a couple of his boys, as he’s curious to see how Makoto resolves this situation. He makes Eiji a G-Boy on the spot and promises he’ll never be hassled by his extorters again.

But first, Eiji must endure the trial of his life: sitting down across the table and looking the man he attacked a year ago in the eye. It’s a gloriously tense scene that grows more and more cathartic as Eiji and Tsukasa and Chihiro learn more about each other. The siblings learn that Eiji, like them, lost a parent at an early age, though they don’t sympathize with how he handled it. Eiji learns that his attack cost Tsukasa his dreams.

Finally, Eiji learns that nothing he says can undo or make up for what he did, any more than Tsukasa and Chihiro’s hatred or revenge exacted upon the pathetic Eiji will truly satisfy them. Chihiro’s description of how she “never gave in” to criminality as Eiji did due to her brother’s love and cooking is matched by Eiji’s description of all the un-scalable “high walls” he faced once outside of juvie.

Once the accusations and grievances have flown, the time comes for Eiji to accept that his wrongdoing will never disappear and think about what he can do from now on. Tsukasa reveals he knew all along Makoto was the famous troubleshooter, and thus had an inkling that a meeting like this was in the works.

The bottom line is, the meeting does work: Tsukasa has learned conclusively that Eiji is not a beast, and as such Eiji’s remorse will probably never disappear. Tsukasa then chooses to forgive him, and they shake hands while Makoto and Takashi exchange approving glances.

What Makoto accomplished by having the Hayamas and Eiji meet and talk things out amounts to what Chief Rei calls “restorative justice”, a reunion that serves both victim and perpetrator by aiding the former’s recovery and the latter’s rehabilitation. Knowing Makoto can pull such justice off without even knowing what it’s called, Rei is confident Ikebukuro can remain a safe and peaceful town.

Having passed his trial, Eiji is aided by the G-Boys, who convince his extorters to return all the money they stole from Eiji. No blows are landed or blood spilled, as the tacit power of the G-Boys community and its “King” is more than sufficient, proving the value of a well-balanced network of groups with shared interests as a deterrent to escalating violence.

Makoto continues to see the Hayamas, who plan to buy a food truck outfitted with equipment and modifications that will enable Tsukasa to stand less while cooking. They also plan to hire Eiji to work for them, since they’ll need help running the truck, and he needs a job. Who better to work for than the people you wronged, but ultimately forgave you? That cooperation will likely allow him to forgive himself one day.

That famous Matthew passage up top is highly instructive of how society can and often must go. In most cases, it isn’t productive for victims to vilify or dehumanize criminals who did them wrong, nor seek empty, self-defeating vengeance. Often there are humans on either side and beasts on neither, and understandings can be reached by direct interaction, learning from one another who they are and why things were done.

Often…but not always. Enter the unpleasant spectacle that follows the atmospherically moody but hopeful end credits. G-Boys and Red Angels are brawling in an alley, staining the streets with their blood. Still, I see this display not as a rebuttal or repudiation of the more peaceful and conciliatory tactics employed by Makoto.

Rather, this kind of scrimmaging is the inevitable other side of the double-sided sword: a scenario involving large groups of restless young people, each with their own histories. At some point they’ll grow large enough to butt up against the turf of another group, with the resulting enmity bringing out the beasts in everyone.

Yet even this can be mitigated by those who lead these groups, namely Takashi and Kyouichi, sitting across a table, with mediators observing. Even if wars can’t be outright avoided, their duration and the amount of blood spilled can be minimized, as long as all concerned parties remember that they are all human, and always were.

Prison School – 11

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It’s cruch time for the inmates, and Gakuto quickly devises a fresh challenge for the Vice President—butt-wrestling—only to find Mari has replaced her, not due to doubt over Meiko’s loyalty or competence, but simply because she suspects the boys have caught on to her pattern of behavior and are planning to exploit her once more…which is exactly what is going on.

Their latest greatest plan thus foiled before it could get off the ground, it falls to Kiyoshi to use Meiko’s replacement Hana to regain access to the office. When he mentions the grudge Hana holds against him (without going into the tawdry details), they protest what could end up a very painful, bloody path, but he sees it as an opportunity to do right by the lads he wronged. They forgave him, but he hasn’t forgiven himself.

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As I suspected, Kiyoshi makes use of Chiyo’s message exchange to gain outside help, and while Chiyo is caught, it’s by Anzu, who shares her desire to get the boys un-expelled. The girls of the Underground StuCo may be the source of all their suffering, but girls also happen to be instrumental to their salvation.

When Gakuto’s quick thinking gets him and Kiyoshi in the office, then ends up alone with Hana, he’s expects the worst for his “eryngii” when she pulls out a pair of shears. Alas, Hana is no butcher, nor is she criminally insane; she merely uses the shears to cut the top off a bottle for him to pee in. Her plan for revenge remains the same; it has not escalated.

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But once Kiyoshi quickly removes his pants, then boxers, he realizes Hana is no less embarrassed by the intimacy of the situation than he is, so he steels himself and tries to win the emotional battle. When Hana realizes what’s happening, she too steels herself, removing her leggings and shimapan and turning the tables. Considering all the messed-up stuff these two have been through—largely through no fault of their own—this is par for the course.

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Kiyoshi doesn’t give up, however, and manages to unlock the door that must be unlocked for the larger plan to succeed. Then she kicks him for being too close, and he catches a glimpse of her “precious area”, which he calls her “medusa”, and then “turns to stone.” Yikes, that’s a lot of double entendres!

Just when Hana is about to pee on him, they’re startled by the commotion when Meiko captures a girl outside the prison. Everyone is dejected that Chiyo has been caught until Shingo recongizes the voice of Anzu, selflessly serving as Chiyo’s decoy and getting captured for the good of the mission.

Kiyoshi gets another accidental peek, and when he explains himself with those entendres, including the use of the term “medusa”, he causes Hana to start bawling. Why did he give it a name? Why does the first person to see her have to be him? Why did it have to turn out this way?

Kiyoshi offers his apologies, and offers to let her hit him as much as she wants…and she does. But hitting him won’t make them even. Instead, in keeping with her eye-for-an-eye sense of justice, she takes from him something he’ll never get back: his first kiss with a girl.

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Almost delirious with the justice she’s doled out, Hana gets Kiyoshi to admit he likes Mari’s little sister, and for that reason, Hana is resolved to do everything to him he doesn’t want her to do, no matter how embarrassing it might be. So as Chiyo sneaks around outside, fighting for Kiyoshi’s sake, Hana continues to purposefully make out with him.

Even if Chiyo doesn’t catch them in the act (something Kiyoshi could probably explain anyway), Kiyoshi won’t forget this evening in the prison office. The thing is, neither will Hana. I can’t believe this encounter won’t stay with her, and that she feels absolutely nothing genuine from it.

Amidst all the totally weird and wrong interactions they’ve had, there’s also been a sliver of chemistry and mutual attraction…it’s just a matter of neither knowing what the heck to do with such things.

9_ses