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Reo Niiboshi Appreciation: The Great Pathetic Villain

It’s Reo Niiboshi loving hours folks! I love that we get to see him be a sweet and loving father in the manga and also be more healed and happy in what we get to see of Reo and Mabu in the post canon content, but part of his character’s appeal for me is that he really was truly a compelling antagonist. I always appreciate stories that explore characters in extreme situations, and seeing Reo be a singing, dancing cartoon villain, a terrifying and threatening presence, and someone embodying the destructiveness of grief, was just a super wild journey to see unfold.

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First of all, I appreciated how he felt genuinely threatening and dangerous specifically without it necessarily coming across in a sexually predatory way. I’m not automatically against characters being sexual predators if it’s being used in a deliberate sense (see: every previous Ikuhara anime), but in general I feel like it can be a very lazy trope to rely on, especially for gay and queer male characters. When he kidnaps Haruka in episode 6 and shoots and taunts Enta at the end of episode 8, they are both horrifying moments, but I felt like his “evilness” in both scenes was more out of a sense of childish, immature cruelty and desperation. Which feels very distinct from the more calculated and cunning actions of characters like say, Akio or Touga in Utena. The addition of the light novel scenes showing Reo as a child with a similar bitter temperament reinforces my interpretation of anime-era adult Reo as kind of regressing back to the state he was when he was young, isolated, and disconnected. We know from the twitter and manga that he was able to grow up and become more well-adjusted, with a career, a loving partner, and friendship and support in his community (the sidenote of the manga mentioning he keeps in touch with his old babysitting clients is such a nice detail). The fact that he loses it all due to the events of the anime and the otter manipulation and thus goes back to being the angry, resentful child lashing out at the world makes a lot of sense. The only difference is that anime Reo’s childishness makes him more dangerous and mean since as an adult wielding borrowed power, he’s able to inflict much more damage, and have much bigger fears, without considering the consequences outside of himself.

Haruka’s kidnapping is a short scene, but it was very telling about Reo’s character too. When Haruka, guilty over “stealing Kazuki’s smile,” asks Reo  “Are you a bad boy too?” Reo’s “villain” persona drops briefly. He goes on a short, pained rant about how he feels abandoned and betrayed by the “emotionless” Mabu, blaming Mabu by saying “he’s the bad one”. Friends and I have had a lot of fun joking about the scene, talking about “haha isn’t it pathetic that the only other person Reo is able to talk to about his relationship problems in the show is this random kid,” but he kind of felt like a kid in that scene for a moment, complaining and whining about being lonely, before switching back into Cool Villain Mode.

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“Pathetic” feels like a good word to describe Reo in the anime, and I don’t mean that in an insulting way necessarily. It’s just that for every scene of him looking like a ~Cool~ stereotypical villain, where he’s acting smug and authoritative in a dramatically staged way, we get scenes of him losing that cool, being emotional and angry and increasingly unhinged in a way that betrays how little control he actually has over his situation. It’s interesting that he is presented as very “cartoon villain” early on, since in episode 9 we get to see Reo’s Otter Reflection which is even MORE of a Cartoon villain look, in a disturbing scene that is basically meant to torture both Reo and Mabu and push them apart just as they show the faintest signs of becoming closer again. Reo being villain is partially an extension of the negative aspects of his actual personality (as mentioned above), but the Otter Reflection acts as a twisted caricature of Reo’s own fears and shame regarding his love for Mabu, basically saying “Your ‘love’ and attraction for Mabu is only selfish lust and desire, you’re the one who wants to own and possess him.” I haven’t dived super deep myself, but this article provides some deeper analysis of this scene and how it relates to internalized homophobia/oppression in general.

Overall, it’s interesting that the kinds of dehumanizing stereotypes a character like Reo, a dark-skinned, “flamboyant” gay man, might have ended up with, end up being taken apart within the story of Sarazanmai itself. He is violent and threatening in the anime in a way that is very effective, but his violence is shown to be a wrong and abnormal state of being that’s a reaction to his and Mabu’s situation, and not an inherent part of his person. While the anime doesn’t show as much extra information about the person he was before the way the manga and novels do, we do get to see him briefly in Mabu’s memories, framed by Mabu’s love. His poor treatment of the “fake” Mabu during the otter era hurts to see, but the whole reason they are in that situation is based on a cruel manipulation in the first place, with Reo’s longing for Mabu consisting of desiring emotional and physical affection, and not simply out of a desire to control and dominate, the way the Otter insinuated in episode 9. Once Reo learns the truth, he thinks back on all his previous interactions with Mabu and is rightfully horrified at himself. He feels deeply, he reacts badly, but in the end, he is deeply loved.

Anyways, this is long winded but in the end… I just really love how he gets to be Bad™. On a surface level, villains are always a lot of fun, and the Kawausoiya revels in that sinister feeling. On the other hand it just makes the story feel much more complete and balanced. It was also very cathartic to see him at the end of Episode 10, arguably at his worst, lashing out, shooting down bridges, cycling through his monumental grief in an “ugly” but vulnerable way. It felt very real, watching it for the first time, and wouldn’t have had the same impact if he had just dramatically shed a silent tear or something cliche like that. No, he endured a personally-crafted hell, inflicted part of that hell on other people for a long time, and exited it with screaming and whimpering and explosions. Like all the characters on the show, we get to be horrified at them while also coming to a deeper understanding of who they are. And while Reo and Mabu’s story makes for a great classical structured tragedy, the fact that they are able to, supernaturally or otherwise, achieve some form of healing in the end, restored to their true selves as Keppi’s honored vassals, just adds to the sense of victory over the system that ensnared them, where they can now serve as the guiding light to the young protagonists running through the darkness.

Author: maiden theory

I'm just a Bird whose intentions are good

One thought on “Reo Niiboshi Appreciation: The Great Pathetic Villain”

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