*necessary spoilers (for Clannad and Hakuouki) below*
I’ve mentioned it before, but there are different portrayals of death.
Some deaths make you mourn for those left behind, aching and alone. These are the deaths like those of Clannad, in which I felt for the main character, Tomoya, as he struggled through life after loosing his young wife only to claw himself out of depression before loosing his five-year-old daughter to the same illness. He was left alone, sobbing on a snowy street holding innocent Ushio’s small, lifeless body.
“Did we…make it? Are we on the train, Dad?”
I chose this scene for the “The Saddest Anime Scene (30 Day Anime Challenge, Day 12)” post because that’s what I felt appropriate at the time. The deaths themselves were truly tragic, and I bawled over that. How could I not sob over the death of a five-year-old child? However, in the midst of all this I was–perhaps even above all?–mourning for Tomoya, with whom I could empathize, who lost his wife and was now loosing his baby girl. That cornucopia of emotion is why the scene itself was rated as “most sad.”
Other deaths leaving you mourning the victim. When you cry, the tears are solely for the deceased. In the initial moment, for whatever reason it may be, these deaths impact you and make you cling to that character even harder, mourning their loss of life perhaps without even considering another character’s pain. These are the deaths like those in Hakuouki. There are two that come to mind when I consider the saddest anime death and yet…
I didn’t struggle when it came to this decision, and I think that as much is because, when I considered the back story of the characters in question, he who lived the most tragic life also met the most tragic end. I cried over the deaths of both characters, but for the saddest anime death, I chose the individual’s who could almost as easily had me sobbing over his life.
Okita Souji died the saddest anime death.
To understand his death, however, one must first understand how he lived, and I know that I won’t do his story justice. I think that Kondo-san explains Okita’s circumstances best.
But Souji…Souji has had it rough.
When we was left in the care of my dojo, he was still only nine years old. He was born into a samurai family, but he lost his parents when he was still young. His big sister, Mitsu-san, raised him in his parents’ stead, but apparently life was hard for them, so…
The child still hadn’t reached the age of ten, but he had to leave his family and start life in my dojo. Although he never said it outright, he must have been lonely.
Souji stayed with us under the pretext of being a live-in student, but in actuality he was treated more like a servant.
-Kondo, Hakuouki Reimeiroku, Ep. 4
Okita Souji grows up in Kondo’s family’s dojo after the death of his parents. Souji’s sister, Mitsu, attempts to maintain contact for a while, but eventually gets married and falls out of touch. Souji has no contact with his only living relative, and he is mercilessly beaten by the other, older dojo students. He hardens himself. Kondo-san stands up for Souji and cares for him. He tries to insist that Souji is special. When Souji laments being left behind by his sister, Kondo responds, “Souji, it is not as though Mitsu-san abandoned you. Who on Earth could ever abandon you, my boy?” He later continues…
“I’m sure it must be hard living away from your sister, but nothing in this world happens without a purpose. I am sure that there must be a reason that you were left in our care, and whatever it is, I’m glad of it, son.”
-Kondo, Hakuouki Reimeiroku, Ep. 4
Kondo was the only one who never called him pitiable, Souji says. Even though young Souji claims Kondo a nuisance for the latter’s attempts to intervene on the his behalf, Souji truly views Kondo as someone almost otherworldly in his goodness. There was a time when the whole world seemed against one little boy and nothing made sense, but Kondo was a ray of kindness in his life. Souji was hardened, and grew to be quite bloodthirsty through events that had and would transpire, but more than anything, Souji–inside his murderous exterior–is still that wounded little boy.
When Souji finally takes Kondo’s words to heart, he makes what would come to be a critical decision.
There must be a reason why these things happened. That’s what you told me, Kondo-san. That’s what you always said. I think I know what that reason is now. I came here for you, Kondo-san; I came to be with you. I came here to become much, much stronger.
-Okita Souji, Hakuouki Reimeiroku, Ep. 4
Souji dedicates his entire life to Kondo. And if you’ve seen the show, you know the road down which his dedication leads. His mental state has fallen into a sort of dangerous “condition” as Hijikata and Kondo would view it, to say nothing of his physical body. Hell, the Shinsengumi leadership even want to send him home to Edo, at one point. These hardened men cry over Souji’s first kill, knowing the blood lust and manipulation from which it stemmed.
Moving into the “present,” as it were–or, rather, the time in which our Shinsengumi have formed and the first two seasons take place–Okita has gown into himself as we know him in the series. He’s teasing, murderous, and strangely fragile. He’s unforgiving, loyal, dedicated, and…
…he sees no worth in his life beyond his ability to be a sword for Kondo-san. When he is diagnosed with tuberculosis, he forsakes any sort of life-prolonging treatment (although the disease at this time would–most likely–be ultimately fatal in any case) in order to stay by Kondo-san’s side.
Of course, being so close to Kondo-san would put him on a path parallel to Kondo’s right-hand man, Vice Commander Toshizo Hijikata.
Okita has a strained relationship with with Hijikata, and the same can be said in reverse. Calling on Kondo-san’s wisdom again, I quote:
Toshi is deeply worried about Soji was well, but he’s rather inept.
-Kondo-san, Hakuouki Reimeiroku, Ep. 4
Okita deeply resents Hijikata for taking up Kondo-san’s attention, and Hijikata grows frustrated with Okita’s childishness and temperamental impulsiveness . Yet, at the same time, they protect each other and care about each other even if it’s only grudgingly at times. The truth of the matter is, regardless of how much Okita may want to deny it, he knows that Hijikata’s not a bad guy; Okita is simply jealous of anyone else being that close to his mentor. Naturally, Hijikata watched Okita grow up, and he cares about his annoying subordinate more than one might initially realize.
When Hijikata follows Kondo-san’s order and leaves his Commander behind to be killed, he agonizes heartrendingly. And when the deathly ill Okita discovers what has occurred, he is livid. How, how, how could Hijikata leave Kondo-san behind to be killed!? How could he save himself at Kondo-san’s expense like that?!
And even though Okita can’t bring hiself to forgive Hijikata, once again…
…inside, Okita knows that his perception of the situation isn’t quite straight on; he knows he lacks knowledge of the circumstances, yet it simply doesn’t matter. Okita would be unable to forgive any other person who acted as Hijikata did under those circumstances, and I think in many ways he would have been literally murderous toward anyone else in Hijikata’s place. It is a testament to his relationship with the Vice Commander and self-awareness that Okita did not attempt to kill him at his first opportunity.
In the end, he still asks Chizuru to look after Hijikata-san in his stead.
Aside from all that, when Okita finds out that a gravely injured Hijikata is in danger, he gives up what little remains of his life and defends the town in which he and Chizuru are hiding out. He meets his fate knowingly and without hesitation to protect the one person who could carry on Kondo’s Shinsengumi vision, the one man he had left from his childhood.
Souji is gone in a rush of flame, alone with corpses in his final moments.
And then Hijikata finds his sword.
I remember watching Souji’s final fight for the first time, and the discovery of his sword. I recall the very moment that Souji’s death hit me, and I remember sobbing, warm tears running down my face. Without any hesitation, my thoughts went to him when I considered which anime death I find most heartbreaking.
Okita Souji died as he lived–as a sword, and by the sword.
Do you agree?