A 2,800-year-old Chinese philosophical movement describes why our doom is at the hands of the best of us
With the conclusion of episode 4, we have been introduced to the major players on each side of the coming conflict and an interesting pattern is emerging. It is assumed that the Drifters are the side of good in whatever metaphysical war is being waged against the Ends. In the hallway where the two trade barbs, everything from Murasaki’s desk to his demeanor radiates order while the crawling darkness that accompanies Easy feels chaotic and malignant. However, the cast of the Drifters is composed of career soldiers and criminals whose legacies are, at best, morally controversial. Meanwhile, the de facto villains were heroes in life, venerated and even canonized as Saints. Recent developments with The Black King are particularly tantalizing, his ability to heal and what look like holes in his palms shrinking the shortlist of potential historical figures down to nearly one.
Are we mistaken in prescribing the role of heroes to the Drifters simply because they are the perspective characters? Swearing fealty to someone who calls himself The Black King, ordering an attack with the melodramatic “bring death”, and the glee some of the Ends took in the ensuing carnage are compelling arguments for villainy. Or, they would be if the Drifters didn’t take equal pleasure in inspiring fear in their enemies and setting fields aflame to foment warfare. Putting aside Hirano’s penchant for populating his works with people who are never happier than amidst death and destruction, a possible explanation of the incongruousness of each faction's members may be found in one of Nobunaga’s self-indulgent monologues.
As a roundabout means of insulting the Octobrists plan to combat the Ends, Nobunaga referenced an interesting historical precedent to explain why human nature itself made their plan impossible. He mentioned the fall of Mohism and rise of Feudalism during the Warring States Era in China to justify the Drifters taking over leadership of the Octobrist organization. After all, a true warlord such as himself would never surrender, even if the enemy is at the gates of their very last stronghold. While another effective illustration of Nobunaga’s unquenchable lust for war, there must be better example he could have given to criticize a military organization’s structure. Instead, the referenced historical event may hint at some developing themes in Drifters and the role each faction will play in their inevitable conflict.
Mohism was one of four major philosophical schools of thought in China first established almost 2,800 years ago (sick reference, Nobu) considered a rival for Confucianism at its peak then fading into obscurity. Today, Mohist's greatest remaining legacy are cannibalized portions of its precepts incorporated into the Taoist canon. A cursory look at its tenants should allow one to easily see why it would find itself at odds with the interests of insular Feudal warlords. When held as a standard of behavior against the cast of the Ends, however, there are some tremendous similarities.
One of the primary tenants of Mohism is equal compassion for all people, whether they be family, friends, or complete strangers. A consequence of this philosophy is the condemnation of military aggression, which is both dispassionate and selfish. In life, the Ends could have been considered models for this doctrine. If the Black King is who we think he is, he is essentially the role model for compassion in the Western world, Joan of Arc fought in a war to repel the English army from France, and Rasputin was notably anti-war and a rare advocate for the Jewish population of Russia. Hijikata fought for peace in Japan and was notable for turning in his own fellow Shinsengumi for abusing their authority to extort money from local merchants. Each was indiscriminate in their magnanimity and fought wars for peace rather than conquest.
Mohism also promoted the idea of meritocratic leadership and for leaders to act as role models for those beneath them. Once again the Black King is perhaps a perfect example, living in a fashion meant to be followed by all humanity. Joan of Arc became a major inspirational figure in France whose legacy lead to her posthumous canonization as a Saint. She came from the most humble beginnings as a peasant, an accomplishment even more impressive for a woman during that period. Rasputin came from similar humble origins and rose to prominence as a holy man and a healer, most notably treating the son of Czar Nicholas II for his hemophilia. Accomplishing this medical feat gained him the ear of the royal family and a positive reputation among the Russian populace. Hijikata was born to a family of merchants but, through his actions, rose to become a leader in the samurai class who is still venerated as an ideal of bushido to this day.
The majority of the remainder of the Mohist doctrine prescribes moderate lifestyles and egalitarian distribution of wealth which, while applicable to the Ends in various ways as many of them lived without ostentation, aren't quite so tantalizing as these final two. Following the intent of heaven as an absolute moral authority which, along with ancestral spirits, reward those who act justly and punish the wicked. While a useful component of belief for keeping the superstitious honest in the real world, these tenets take on a whole new meaning in Drifters. The End’s current residence in the twilight world between life and death might afford them the status of ghosts. The Black King’s own death resulted in his ascension to a position of morally absolute divinity. The Ends now enjoy supernatural abilities, lending some legitimacy to the idea that they have become something, whether gods or ghosts, greater than Murasaki's counterparts.
Nobunaga’s historical musings regarding Mohism’s defeat by feudalism becomes allegorical to the Ends themselves. Joan was burned at the stake after being found guilty of heresy in a show trial by her own church. Rasputin was assassinated by Russian nobles disgruntled with the influence he held with the royal family. The Black King was betrayed by one of his closest friends to the Romans who feared him, resulting in the most famous execution in history. Each ultimately fell to rulers who saw them as a threat to their own power. They fulfilled their Mohist obligations as leaders to be role models but humanity failed them. The nature of their deaths alone can justify their shift in disposition, providing more than enough fuel for history's most epic vendetta ride.
Now the Ends find themselves in a world in ruled by feudalism, in which humanity has subjugated the all other races. Rejected by humanity, it only makes sense for the Ends to become champion for the weak, fighting against the military aggressors that have failed in the same manner as the humans in their own world. Part revenge, part punishment, and part compassion. The Ends exist as a declaration that humanity is beyond redemption and must be annihilated. It's only appropriate, then, that the human's final hope of survival are the outlaws, warmongers, and champions of feudalism that would have carried out the Ends' executions.