Yuureitou – Volume 3

After two volumes that layered exploitation sleaze and shock-horror twists over meditations on gender identity and the commodification of women in society, Yuureitou’s third volume opens with a conflict that seems embrace its most schlocky tendencies. Continuing last volume’s cliffhanger ending with a chapter called “The Value of Life,” volume three sees Yuureitou’s protagonists rushing around in search of a person to harvest for their body parts, all to appease the desires a mad scientist in an iron mask known only as Doctor Tesla. With a deadly virus running through their veins, Tetsuo, Amano, and their officer friend must race against time to find a suitable sacrifice.

And yet, in another of Yuureitou’s consistent dramatic contradictions, this volume ultimately centers on one of the manga’s most compelling questions yet. Yuureitou’s second volume directly challenged the nature of honor, beauty, and justice, framing these concepts as relative terms that can easily be turned malevolent by any given society. Having discarded any objective concept of justice, this kill-or-be-killed premise lets all three of our leads articulate their own concepts of morality, asking each of them how they must individually act in order to maintain a clear conscience.

Both Tetsuo and Amano come up with very different concepts of personal morality. Having lived a life defined by responsibility for things even outside his control, Tetsuo’s philosophy hinges on acknowledging your own truth. He refuses to go along with the officer’s plan to kill an old rival, not because he believes this murder is unjust, but because he can’t stand the thought of the officer using this plan to portion out responsibility for the murder. On the other hand, Amano’s philosophy is based on either guilt or sympathy for others – he’s willing to accept a would-be suicide as sacrifice, but not if that person is guided into that suicide, and not if others rely on their chosen target.

Neither of these choices rely on consistent philosophical reasoning – they are simply personal expressions of humanity, the codes these characters have chosen that they feel define them as human beings. It’s a different approach from how Yuureitou generally tackles identity, but in its own way, it still addresses how we construct a sense of self. The fact that this story is framed in such absurd, life-or-death terms only emphasizes how nothing is more fundamental to our sense of self, and our very lives, than the frameworks we use to guide and justify our actions. A stark hypothetical is made real: if you had to kill someone, how would you personally go about that action in order to maintain your own sense of humanity?

In that light, this story is actually far more sensitive than more straightforward thriller narratives – many heroes kill countless enemies, but Yuureitou frames one single life lost as the possible cost of three others’ humanity. Yuureitou’s often grotesque character art is perfectly suited to these questions, alternately making monsters and victims of our beleaguered heroes. And in the end, the officer’s sense of identity is the most flimsy, but perhaps most relatable, of all. After learning the man he wanted to kill may have been innocent after all, he reflects that “to me, he was like a main character. I’d been living in a world without a main character for a long time.” We desperately want the structures of our world to be more coherent than they are, and for the world itself to give more purpose and meaning than it provides. But in the end, there may not be anyone whose life is worth more or less than ours.

After one momentous chapter of philosophical interrogations, the rest of this volume is largely dedicated to (literal) breakneck thriller shenanigans. The organ sacrifice arc ends with crosses and double-crosses, with Tetsuo banking on the doctor’s “every life is equally valuable” philosophy to hold hostages over his head in turn. Tetsuo’s acknowledgment of his own transgender identity is tossed off as a way to prove he’s capable of murder. Horrifying faces are revealed, ghastly fates are narrowly avoided, and Yuureitou continues on its own consistently perplexing way.

Volume three’s second half returns us to its seemingly forgotten central conflict: the mystery of the clocktower murders. With Rika’s identity revealed and even the lost fiance Shirou spun back into the mix, these chapters are a gleeful dance through haunted mansion mainstays. After a young boy wanders behind a trap bookcase (of course), Satoko and a collection of expendables all find themselves stumbling through dank passageways and foreboding tunnels, with new traps awaiting at every turn.

Yuureitou has a tendency to ground its horror and mysteries in the fundamental ugliness of societal expectations, but this arc embraces horror and mystery for their own sake. It’s inherently thrilling watching Satoko and her unfortunate companions spring trap after brutal trap, letting the manga indulge in new extremes of body horror madness. Tarou Nogizaka’s excruciatingly precise art is equally at home depicting grisly fates and terrible killers, and the distinct setting of the mansion underground enables all manner of striking conflicts and compositions. Even the killer’s preferred weapon, a pair of elongated medical shears, seem specifically chosen for their ugliness, their precision, their implication of surgery gone wrong.

While Satoko screams and Tetsuo smolders in the mansion’s subterranean labyrinth, Taichi demonstrates Nogizaka’s equal love of classic mysteries. Once again divorced from any thematic baggage, Taichi’s exploration of the mansion’s surface is its own reward, a satisfying procession of grounded deductions. Though Taichi may still be a fuckboy at heart, he’s gained confidence and competence over the course of this story, making him a friend who may well be able to support Tetsuo. Where the volume’s first arc concludes on Tetsuo reflecting that no one could truly relate to his pain, this arc finds the two of them finally trusting each other at last.

That finale also sees Tetsuo reuniting with his old fiance, in a scene that ties together all of Yuureitou’s furious ruminations on perception and identity. Scarred almost beyond recognition, Shirou can no longer even acknowledge his current self. His inability to acknowledge this truth reflects his conditional love of Tetsuo; though he could recognize the profound sadness of Tetsuo’s gaze, he couldn’t see Tetsuo as a man. And yet, having watched his mother suffer through her own social invalidation, Shirou is clearly aware of the monstrous expectations of this world. If there’s a takeaway, it’s the same one we’re always forced to accept: this world is messy, and we are messy too, inside and out. Sometimes redemption doesn’t come. Sometimes our humanity is bought and parceled, sometimes we don’t understand the ways we cause others pain. Yuureitou may be a gross and imperfect story, but it’s describing a gross and imperfect world.

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