Disclaimer: A slight spoiler that will be marked for P5, and there are slight hxh spoilers as per usual. Unmarked Death Note spoilers because WATCH IT ALREADY
Fiat justitia ruat cælum
Let justice be done, though the heavens fall
As with many enduring phrases throughout history, this saying can be taken in both a positive and negative light, depending on one’s perspective.
One the one hand, this saying can be viewed as heroic and honorable, embodying the human spirit. To stick to one’s own justice, despite the personal consequences one may reap, is often seen as admirable and the morally right thing to do. In a video game I’ve been playing recently, Persona 5(that has possibly become my favorite of all time), sticking to your own justice of saving others regardless of the risk you’ll face is always shown to be the right call (without getting into spoilers). However, as is often the case, Hunter x Hunter explores the dark side of this concept. Despite this, I don’t think hxh’s message is in conflict with Persona 5’s. HxH still advocates for a justice that saves others, a “Restorative Justice” if you will. But it does this by exposing what happens when a “Fiat justitia ruat cælum” approach is taken with a different type of justice guiding it. Hunter x Hunter thematically is against “Retributive Justice”.
Light vs L’s Justice
Ultimately, your sense of justice will come from your morality. This is often debated in ethics but for the sake of argument (and the fact that it’s the view supported by science) we’ll assume there are 2 sets of moral beliefs that can dominate one’s thought process: “Strict Father” morality and “Nurturant Parent” morality. These translate to Retributive and Restorative Justice respectively. You can define Restorative Justice (also known as transformative justice) as acting to reform behavior, in order to prevent such behavior in the future. Per this philosophy, by understanding why a certain behavior and action was taken and working to change people through understanding and education, we can not only prevent deviant behaviors, but reintegrate people back into society to work for the greater good. Under such a system, killing or otherwise physically punishing people for their actions is not only unprudent but is counterproductive, as it prevents any good coming out of a situation and furthermore fails to prevent such actions from happening again in the future. This frame of mind is driven by a morality that considers empathy and collective responsibility it’s main tenets (qualities needed to be a nurturant parent, thus the name).
On the other hand, you have retributive justice which is the complete opposite. It’s guided by a morality that’s all about maintaining discipline through punishment. You create good behavior by eliminating bad actions through punishment. Eventually, all bad action will be eliminated, because you’ve destroyed all those who are pure evil, those who can’t learn to be disciplined die on their own, and everyone else self-regulates. This is arguably the foundation of all 3 of the world’s major religions (and for you Durkheim fans out there you may recognize this as the “go to” response for anyone who steps out of line in mechanical homogeneous societies *like japan’s maybe*?).
Using Death Note as an example (as I like to do), we can explain these 2 different takes on justice by looking at the morals of Light and L. These 2 different systems of justice are encapsulated in the battle between L and Light, with Light using his power to kill those he judges unfit for the new world without even a chance of repentance and L trying always to capture Kira and put him on trial, never arguing to kill him (at the very least without due process which kinda complicates things since Japan does have the death penalty, but I don’t think L supports it and that’s a whole other post). L represents what our current justice system is (or at least supposed to be) all about, whereas Kira/Light represents the old Judean-Christian view made earthly, quick, and efficient.
Justice in Persona 5
Now I only recently got into the Persona series with this game and despite the 200 hours of gameplay I’ve sunk into it, I’m sure there is quite a bit of stuff about its themes that I don’t fully grasp yet considering it’s building on top of 4 previous games I haven’t played before (and that’s ONLY counting titles that actually have “Persona” in the name). However, P5 is its own independent story and this is one part of the game’s theme’s that I know I got right. And that is that just as how Light’s quest to create a new world order with him as the center/god is the Judean-Christian version of justice made earthly, quick, and efficient, so is the Phantom Thieves quest to reform society a supernatural materialization of Restorative Justice. The WHOLE POINT of the game is to change hearts. It is to transform people into being better. And the important thing to note here is that they do it out of an empathy and responsibility to the community at large. “It’s not for us! We only do it to help to others” says best girl Makoto Niijima, encapsulating what Persona 5 and Restorative Justice is all about; Saving others.
In contrast, many a villain and even the protagonists at times will ponder using the power to change people for their own selfish gain, whether it be for revenge or riches or status. But it is always shown to be a thought process that only results in unhappiness for everybody, especially trying to seek revenge towards those who have wronged you.
SPOILER FOR P5 SKIP PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED OR PLAN TO PLAY
To prove my point, there is someone in the game with the same power as the MC and they use it to try to get revenge on his shitty father in the dumbest way possible. And what happens? MOTHERFUCKER GETS HIS ASS SMOKED. If you’re reading this you know who I’m talking about. Persona 5’s main message is that reality is as you make it and a simple change in thinking can have a massive shift in your reality. The ending scenes stating this are easily among my favorite game cutscenes of all time, they made me cry and show (imo) the strength of looking at the world through a nurturant parent lens verse a strict father lens, which is what all the villains had.
END OF SPOILER
Ok so Persona 5 is all about Restorative Justice, but what does any of this have to do with HxH? Well, you’ll notice how Retributive Justice is kinda selfish in that it is often distributed because it feels good to get back at those who wronged you. And it’s important to understand that most people, with the exception of the mentally ill, be they sociopaths, psychopaths, or what have you, have both frameworks of justice in their heads. It is why we can all understand a Schwarzenegger movie and we can also understand Mister Rogers. While we all have a preference, unless you little CAN’T understand how these 2 things exist conceptually, you have the ability to think in both ways. Which is why we can understand and even root for the tale of a boy who sets out to avenge his clan…
(not Gon, tho we’ll get to him)
Kurapika, Gon, Yorknew, CA, and where it’s all headed
Togashi Yoshihiro is not the first to examine the negative consequences of seeking out one’s own Retributive Justice. Whereas Death Note and Persona 5 take a look at each of the justice systems taken to their absolute extreme via supernatural elements forced into a normal world, Togashi takes a more grounded approach. Kurapika basically becoming Bryan Mills from “Taken” with superpowers, he sets off to eliminate those who have harmed and killed those closest to him. But whereas “Taken” is almost celebratory in the completion of this task, Togashi shows what a post-Phantom Troupe elimination Kurapika would look like in the York New Arc and it’s pretty depressing. He has no peace or tranquility except for fleeting moments. Not only that but time and time again Togashi shows the dangers and unhappiness that comes from Kurapika’s endless pursuit of the Troupe. Youtuber TalesofNerdia has an spectacular video on Kurapika talking about just this. But Kurapika isn’t the only one who executes this type of justice. The Phantom Troupe themselves exact their own type of revenge for Uvogin by reeking havoc on York New, and even Gon, our MC spends the entire second half of an arc focused exclusively on revenge for his fallen mentor. What makes Togashi so brilliant in my opinion though, and what makes this all worth pointing out is that Togashi actually practices what he preaches metatextually speaking by not punishing any of these characters for their actions in the story.
While Death Note is one of my favorite anime and Persona 5 is a game I utterly adore, both do the very thing all 3 stories are preaching against to the characters that are portrayed as in the wrong. Light is killed for his actions not by other characters that he effected, but by Ryuk who had no stake in it from the beginning, amounting to Light basically being killed by God. And even ignoring the P5 spoilers, at the end of the day, the MC’s could only do what they did because they had a supernatural power, and the criminals still get punished even though it’s literally impossible for them to become any better as they’ve been made the best they can possibly be. Now nothing is wrong with either of these stories or rather they are not worst because of this. Light’s death is symbolic and fits the theme of Death Note about how cyclical the world is. Persona 5’s story could only ever be told this way. However, there is something to be said about the way Togashi is able to craft a story in such a way to reflect it’s themes so methodically. In this case, HxH is grounded in realism, as (as far as we know) there is no supernatural force that can set things right, only people and their own thoughts and feelings can construct the reality of the hxh world.
The Phantom Troupe get away with their destruction scot free. It even makes some of them feel better. Either way, none regret it. This is their normal. It’s not a coincidence that they are the closest thing HxH has to villains that even STILL aren’t outright portrayed as outright evil. Gon goes through hell on his revenge quest but not because any outside force is punishing him for it. He goes through mental anguish because he can’t understand why these creatures who he is supposed to eradicate are suddenly seeming more and more human, he fucks up his own body to get the job done, at every turn it is himself who is getting in his own way and happiness, and it is he who is portrayed as the worst evil we’ve seen in the series outside Hisoka. And yet, to many moans and whining by some of the audience, he gets off scot-free as well, only having to deal with the mental baggage of what he did, leaving him open to real, significant change. While others may see Gon’s recovery as plot armor, I see it as Togashi showing that you gain nothing good from punishment, not even emotionally.
We thought it would feel good to see Pitou get smashed to bits, just as we thought it would feel good if Gon had died or had never been able to recover. For many of us, it did, same with Kurapika killing Uvo. But only for a moment. Only long enough for us to watch the fight, or remember it/rewatch it. No long lasting satisfaction comes from it for most of us. This is why I feel HxH advocates for Restorative Justice, or at least discourages a Retributive one.
Of course, there are also those of us for who this is not the case. The Phantom Troupe of reality as it were. Those of us who feel the universe has been set right, that justice has been served. To a large extent I include myself and my best friends in that category. But Togashi doesn’t demonize us either. He shows the results of each type of thinking has. This is why we can have such charismatic villains and deplorable heroes. It is the Genius of Togashi that, depending on your point of view, you could go so far as to say no one in HxH is a hero or that everybody is. The world Togashi constructs is a real one despite its fantastical elements. As such, you could potentially take away any message you want from it as we do it the real world. 99% of the main cast in the series are murders or accomplices to murders. And yet I’ve managed to walk away from HxH with the impression that Togashi wants me to feel retribution is bad because my favorite characters suffer seeking it. But I could have just as easily walked away thinking you should do what makes you feel good, given how these guys got away with it.
This is where we come full circle back to Kurapika and where I think the story is going from here. I believe the theme the story is trying to convey will be through him. After all, it’s what you focus on, especially at the end, that will stick in people’s minds. We’ve seen a group enact their own selfish justice and feel good about. And because they were not punished, it becomes appealing. We have also seen someone commit to their revenge against their own interest and suffer because of their own emotions and actions. However, they still remain unpunished by any outside force, leaving us questioning whether following a justice based purely off emotions of anger and hatred are truly what we ourselves want to do. By not punishing Gon and thus preaching to us, our minds are left open. Now all that’s left is to be shown the right path, and this is important, in a world where you will get no external reward for or punishment for whatever you choose. As such seeing a character we come to know, learn, and bond with throughout the series let go on his hate at the end and embrace and different way of life will surely guide many of us in the same direction. That’s why I think Kurapika will not eliminate the Phantom Troupe. The only question for me is, will the Charismatic Villain Hisoka do it? He is one of the characters that embody the Epicurean ideal best in the series after all, but that is a topic for another time…
- I was planning to include the word Judgement in there somewhere hence the title but yall get the idea
- Kurapika has a chain motif. He is chained down by his past and wants to chain evil down to hell. Persona 5 Also has a lot of chain symbolism in it. COINCIDENCE?! I THINK NOT!
- The music in P5 is my favorite soundtrack to anything ever (Yes including HxH though HxH soundtrack has better individual songs.)
- This side notes thing will be for stuff I couldn’t fit into the actually post anywhere. Hopefully I don’t have to use it much.
Disclaimer: Some may argue that restorative justice IS in fact what Christianity is all about, what with the whole “dying for our sins” and the ” Father forgive them for they know not what they do” thing. I would agree, but seeing as how the majority of domination does not hold that view (see Heaven and Hell) and the fact that I myself am not of that faith or extremely well versed in it, I left that argument out.
So what are your thoughts as my main cat Morgana likes to ask? Be sure to let me know or I might have to steal your heart~