BEFORE I GET TO THE ESSAY, a quick note for anyone who is on LJ and/or Dreamwidth exclusively--pretty much all of my KHR reviews these days are only posted on tumblr. Because I am super lazy, and cross-posting stuff requires me to do a little more typing and clicking and OH MY GOD IT'S SO MUCH WORK!1 (I'm sorry, did I say lazy, I meant fail. XD)
If anyone is interested, I finally went back and tagged my tumblr reviews with the 'yay new chapter' tag, so... yeah. They're there! That is where they are.
Anyway, so yeah, KHR 378 came out and an essay happened, idk.
I’ll start this rambling motherfucker of an essay off by saying that as a general rule, Amano doesn’t really do themes so much. She’s got the usual shounen stuff going on, of course—determination, teamwork, survival, teaching bad guys life lessons—but aside from that, there really isn’t an overarching thematic sense of purpose to KHR, as opposed to say something like One Piece (“follow your dreams”), or FullMetal Alchemist (“keep moving forward”). Amano doesn’t do that—but! What she does do well is focusing on a character or character dynamic and putting that at the center of an arc, taking that character development, and using that instead as kind of the theme that ties her arcs together.
She’s been doing that for a while now, but the Simon arc is the first time I think she’s really done it deliberately. I think by this point she realized, “okay, I may not be so great with plots but I am pretty ace with characters. So I’ll take this relationship and build it up; first I’ll show Tsuna and Enma forming this close friendship, and then I’ll basically throw everything I have at them and see if they survive it.” And in the end, I would argue that one of the only truly successful things that the Simon arc actually did was to keep that relationship at the center and not sacrifice the fact that theirs was ultimately the story Amano was telling. Tsuna and Enma, their friendship, and how it overcomes all this angst and their histories and Daemon’s attempts to break them apart. The arc starts with them and it ends with them.
Now, during said arc, I was pretty disappointed with how the whole sideplot with Iemitsu played out. It was introduced as this really dark thing—Tsuna’s father may very well be a mass-murderer who brutally slaughtered his best friend’s family! AWKWARD. And for a while Tsuna goes into like this depressed zombie state and it is super angsty and I loved it, ngl. But then Amano just kind of… dropped it. With no real explanation aside from a weak “well I’ve decided I’m going to believe in him” from Tsuna.
But if you think about it in terms of the Tsuna/Enma relationship being the focus of that arc, then it almost makes sense. The Tsuna/Iemitsu angst storyline was never meant to be lingered over because it would distract from the central relationship of this arc. The real purpose of introducing that little nugget of angst was to create more conflict between Tsuna and Enma, to make their battle more personal and really drive it home. And once it succeeded in that purpose, it was dropped.
And I think that’s kind of the same thing Amano’s been doing with Tsuna and Iemitsu in this arc. It’s not really the Daddy Issues Arc, and as much as I love it, the conflict between Iemitsu and Tsuna is not really supposed to take center stage here. Instead, I think the real purpose of highlighting the rift between Iemitsu and Tsuna is to show it as a contrast to the relationship between Tsuna and Reborn… which is at the center of this arc.
Tsuna and Reborn’s relationship has always been the core of the series, but for the most part it’s been set in the background. Their relationship is the foundation the series is built on; it’s the primary relationship that we as the audience can trust and rely on. We know that Reborn understands Tsuna; we know that Tsuna trusts Reborn, and the two of them are like the solid ground that we can cling to in the midst of all the chaos that’s always going on around them. It’s something that’s fundamental and comforting, and because it’s so familiar to the reader, Amano doesn’t have to draw attention to it so much. Occasionally we get a character moment between the two of them, or we view them interacting and another character will remark on their bond, but that’s basically it.
This arc is really the first arc that’s emphasized that relationship and thrust it into the spotlight, so that Amano has to define it in a way she hasn’t before. And I think that by adding Iemitsu to the mix, she struck onto the perfect way to do it. Because it really is almost a father/son relationship that Reborn and Tsuna have, at the end of the day. It’s a mentor/student relationship. And by showing all the things that Iemitsu is not, showing all the things that Tsuna wants Iemitsu to be, it underscores the fact that Reborn is these things to Tsuna. Reborn is the father figure that Tsuna has not had before, and because of him there is now a world of difference between who Tsuna used to be and who he is now.
And it’s worth mentioning that the changes in Tsuna haven’t fundamentally changed his character. Tsuna has not grown up to be a brutal mafia hitman type; he’s still a gentle person, a sweet person who loves and trusts people. But under Reborn’s tutelage he’s gained more confidence in himself. It’s good development. And I’ve seen some people argue that Reborn is very manipulative, and that’s partly true; he’s kind of a naturally manipulative person in that he instinctively gets how people think and work, and takes full advantage of that insight. But he has never once manipulated Tsuna into doing anything he absolutely did not want to do. He pushes him, yes, absolutely; he will prod Tsuna when he’s being reluctant, and he will give him shounen beatdowns of self-improvement. But the end result is that Tsuna is moved into action because he knows it’s right; he knows it’s what he should be doing.
If Tsuna is slowly becoming more of a boss under Reborn’s guidance, more of a fighter and a leader, it’s not because Reborn is the mastermind subtly crafting him into the Tenth Boss he desires—it’s because deep down, Tsuna has always been a boss and a fighter and a leader. He just never had the motivation to be this version of himself, or the understanding of why it’s necessary. All Reborn’s done is spot that potential in him, and then push him into finally bringing it out. Aside from that, well, he knows Tsuna is still conflicted about all of this, and he’s letting him figure it out for himself. In fact, when you get right down to it, if you break down every single lesson or piece of advice that Reborn has given Tsuna, it really just boils down to two things. The first: “Man up.” The second? “Just do what you think is right.” So when Fon says at the end of this latest chapter that everything Reborn’s done up to this point has been for Tsuna’s sake, I absolutely do believe him. Because as a reader, I can see for myself how with each successive arc, Tsuna is growing into a better, stronger person. And in this arc, that relationship has finally become the centerpiece, and we’re taking a real close look at it for the first time.
Even the fact that Tsuna doesn’t recognize Reborn in his adult form… aside from the obvious comic relief, I actually can see that turning into something very poignant later on. Because at the beginning of this arc, we do have that scene with Reborn and Tsuna on the rooftop, and Tsuna being almost afraid to find out who Reborn really is, because he’s afraid that it will change their relationship—that relationship which, as pointed out above, is something that’s incredibly important to him and that he really, really needs right now. So this is just speculation, but I can just see at the end of this arc, Tsuna finally realizing that Adult!Reborn actually was Reborn. And maybe he’ll have that father-figure epiphany, because seeing Reborn as an adult rather than a baby really does kind of bring to light the true nature of this relationship. And I can just see it hitting him as kind of a woomph! realization.
Because sad as it is, maybe the relationship with Tsuna and his father is never really going to change. Maybe Iemitsu is just going to be a dick forever. But Tsuna does have someone else who wants him to be great, who pushes him in a way that no one’s pushed him before, and it’s made all the difference so far.
So basically, what I’m saying here is that I LIKE WHAT AMANO DOES WITH CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS, and I ESPECIALLY LIKE WHAT AMANO HAS DONE AND IS DOING WITH TSUNA AND REBORN’S RELATIONSHIP, AND IT IS A GOOD THING AND I HOPE SHE KEEPS IT UP.