Kaiba’s Black Humor
One element of Kaiba I wanted to write about in my Secret Santa review is the show’s black sense of humor, but I couldn’t find a decent way to work it in to the review. That thing was getting too long, anyway. So now, since this week’s episode of Hunter x Hunter is a recap episode, and I’m not writing about that shit, you get this instead. Hooray!
Spoilers for episode 7 of Kaiba lurk within this post. Enter at your own risk!
So, Kaiba explores the nature of memory and identity in numerous ways, but one of the ways it does this that struck me most is through the show’s use of black humor. You know a show has a good sense of humor when it asks “What are souls?” at the beginning of an episode, and then proceeds to have a person split her memory into two and place the other one in another body so that she can fuck herself. There are plenty of other instances of this weird sense of humor, but the one that has stuck with me most is the ending of episode 7.
From what I’ve read, most fans tend to see the moment when Vanilla sacrifices himself to save Kaiba — who is in disguise as Chroniko, with whom Vanilla has fallen in love — as a moment packed with drama and pathos. Hell, it even touches some folks enough to make them cry. But it touched me in a different way: The sheer irony made me burst out in nervous laughter.
I could never forget that Chroniko is not who Vanilla assumes she is, and indeed, it seems as if the series constantly goes out of its way to remind the viewer that it is Kaiba within the body of this young girl who is the object of Vanilla’s affection (or, maybe, simply his lust). Most often it’s in funny/uncomfortable moments where Vanilla is obviously trying to get into Chroniko’s pants and Kaiba reacts like, “Ummmmmmmmmmmmm … gottagobye.” So the audience has to be aware that Kaiba as Chroniko has zero interest in Vanilla’s fat ass, and this is a totally unrequited love.
Which means, of course, that when Vanilla sacrifices his life to save Kaiba, he kills himself for something that does not exist, and will never exist. Maybe the irony of that is what gets to people; me, I just went, “Damn, this is pretty fucked up!” Part of the point of this — aside from squeezing out some drama to end a good episode — is to show how fundamentally limited our memory is because it totally depends on our point of view.
We understandably question the ethics of memory alteration and switching bodies and whatnot, but moments like this show that a lot of the time we alter our perception of the world to best suit us, anyway. Most of us do not have photographic memory; we don’t remember everything that happens in our lives. We mostly remember things that make a strong impression on us, good or bad. Not entirely the same as deliberately picking what to remember, but close enough.
Vanilla does this when it comes to how he sees Chroniko. It’s obvious to the audience that Kaiba!Chroniko has zero interest in Vanilla. When Kaiba has even the slightest opportunity available to ditch Vanilla, he takes it without hesitation. Only someone head over heels in love — or clouded by lust — like Vanilla wouldn’t be able to see through that behavior. He puts all his best moves on Kaiba!Chroniko, and he convinces himself that he’s got this totally in the bag and surely she loves him and he totally loves her. This delusion is so deep-seeded that, again, he friggin’ kills himself so that Kaiba can escape even though Kaiba doesn’t care about him at all.
The event plays at being tragic, but really, it’s only “tragic” because Vanilla is a lovestruck dummy. He puts himself in a terrible situation because he can’t see outside his limited perception. The real tragedy is that Vanilla is the butt of a cruel joke and doesn’t know it. That it is revealed just before the end that Vanilla has been working to buy a new body for his mother seems to be the punchline — there’s a reason why the series waits until that moment to give Vanilla another sliver of humanity. Remember, up to that moment, Vanilla is not such a great guy. He’s not as monstrous as some folks in Kaiba, but he ain’t good, either.
It seems like a fitting end in the context of the series, though. He graduates from threatening villain to bumbling dork who thinks only with his boner, and it leads Vanilla to just about the worst place he could go. A cruel joke, indeed.