Thoughtful Thursday: Esdeath (Akame ga Kill)

These are some of my thoughts about Esdeath, the main antagonist in Akame ga Kill. First, we need to establish that Esdeath is a merciless villain. She is aligned with a corrupt empire that taxes small villages to death, uses military might to conquer other lands, and allows a drug trade, among other things. This government enables a society where the rich nobles and high-ranking military officers can basically do what they want at the cost of the weak. The capital is the center of this corruption, and it’s the capital and its nobles that Esdeath defends in her work.

This is not all. Esdeath’s first major act for the empire was wiping out a northern tribe and taking their lands. She killed far more than she needed to, burying nearly everyone in deadly ice (which is her power). In one scene, Esdeath has a man from the tribe on a collar and chain, grinding her heel in his face. It is said that Esdeath is sadist who enjoys torture, and she never denies the fact. Thus, it’s clear that we have a proper villain here.

I’m interested in Antisocial Personality Disorder and sociopath characters in fiction. So I found myself wondering if Esdeath is a sociopath. She lives in era and country where violent military is the norm. She views her actions as good for the country and as her duty. It’s not a general’s job to right the wrongs of the empire. On the other hand, we know Esdeath finds amusement and satisfaction in torture. And though she possesses a good range of emotion, empathy isn’t included. Esdeath is probably a sociopath, but we’ll revisit this shortly. First, I will point out some character history and personality of Esdeath that make her memorable and nuanced.

In episode 14, Esdeath talks to Tatsumi about her past. She was brought up in a harsh environment full of man-eating Danger Beasts, which could not have been easy for a small village in nearly arctic climate. (Esdeath, however, called it a wonderful environment when looking back on it.) Esdeath’s mother was killed by a monster when she was very young. So the father raised Esdeath to be a hunter, to catch prey and take it apart for valuable pieces to sell or eat. He taught Esdeath the view, from her birth, that the weak die. If a person or a beast is killed, that simply means they were weaker. This is way things should be.

With this teaching being all she knew, and useful a harsh environment, it makes sense that someone could turn out like Esdeath. The view that the weak will always die shaped her entire being. By extension, torturing an animal or a person is permissible, because might makes right. Similarly, Esdeath can see nothing wrong with the capital or the empire as a whole because the corruption within is just the rule of the strong dominating the weak. Esdeath seems to like nature and excels in natural environments like when she is stuck on the empty island with Tatsumi. Most likely, she appreciates nature because it follows the rule of survival of the fittest.

Now that we know her history, let’s look at this fierce woman’s personality. I mentioned that she likes nature and enjoys the torture she does as part of her duty in the capital. Esdeath excels at being a leader, not only with intimidation, but also with natural qualities and charisma. In general, she is committed, thorough, and takes her duty seriously. Practical and logical, Esdeath possesses strong principles of discipline. To be clear, she’s not the kind of villain who does what she wants whenever she wants. Even with fighting and torture, she only obliges if her job allows it or calls for it, or if she or a companion is in danger.

People often don’t realize how disciplined Esdeath is and how important obligation and regulation are to her. In order to obtain her complete control over summoning and manipulation of ice, Esdeath imbibed the ancient blood of a Danger Beast said to have had the same power. All others who tried to drink this magic life essence went insane without obtaining the ability. When Esdeath drank it, she was nearly overcome with insanity as well, blasted by a flurry of voices, visions, and desires to kill and rampage.

Esdeath, however, controlled herself and came back to reality. She immediately identified that what drove everyone mad were intense destructive impulses. The Royal Minister who was with her said, “I guess it doesn’t work on you because you’re already so crazy.” In other words, Esdeath has lived with destructive impulses all her life. She is accustomed to handling them. And instead of going mad and rampaging, she keeps a sense of practical reason, and directs violence into hunting wild beasts and fighting in the military. Esdeath is mentally mighty– perhaps unshakable. This is a frightening woman indeed.

Returning to what I touched on earlier, Esdeath bears a resemblance to sociopaths in reality. Here are a few facts on that subject. Sociopaths are those with Antisocial Personality Disorder, a mental illness with unknown causes and no known cure. Contrary to popular belief, sociopaths do feel emotions, excluding empathy and remorse. While a psychopath is a violent, active threat to society, sociopaths can be “socially acceptable,” controlling their worst behaviors, and finding roles in our world where they can succeed without harming peace. But the disorder is common within prison populations, so clearly, many are still criminals.

Just like a sociopath, Esdeath never shows any sign of remorse for her actions, and lacks basic human empathy. When she talks about transitioning from a hunter to an imperial general, Esdeath says it was simple; all she had to do was switch from hunting animals and monsters to hunting humans. She speaks as though she never had any problem or hesitation over killing her own kind. When her father and most of the village were killed in a raid from the powerful northern tribe, Esdeath accepted it with ease. By her own admission, she mourns for the strong man her father was, but she sticks to her rule. Her people were weak, and so they died.

Esdeath does have a softer side, where she interacts with others eloquently and sometimes on a slightly vulnerable level. But there is no direct evidence of her feeling empathy for others. She gets along well with her subordinates in the Jeager squad, and is able to use words that bring comfort to Seryu when she is depressed. It’s possible that Esdeath is able to care about others as helpful fighting comrades. Sociopaths can also feel possessive admiration and can value a person for their utility, skills, or other attributes. Still, they don’t empathize. Esdeath is likely capable of a very limited kind of caring.

Though sociopaths can feel some range of emotion, they are often distinctly removed from the sway of intense moods. Some are distinctively removed from their feelings, or able to easily reason them away, operating on pure logic without social consideration. Even if Esdeath was not a sociopath, her personality type is one that is extremely logical. That’s who she is. But her lack of empathy makes her detachment even greater than normal. When Tatsumi dies, Esdeath appears and sounds sad and angry. But she moves right on, saying he, too, was weak. There’s another good example of this when Tatsumi and Esdeath talk on the deserted island in episode 14.

When Tatsumi hears that it was the northern tribe who killed Esdeath’s beloved father, he seems to think this is why the icy general wiped them out so mercilessly in her military career. But Esdeath explains she killed so many to cut costs and complications, and there was no hatred behind it. An emotional person like Tatsumi would find it easier to understand if someone slaughtered a tribe to avenge their own people. To the highly logical Esdeath, however, this is absurd. She says the northern tribe were adversaries in the line of duty and not personal enemies. After all, when people die, it’s because they were weaker than whoever killed them. There is no need to cry or rage about the natural order of things.

With her removal from illogical emotions, her lack of remorse, and her apparent inability to feel empathy, Esdeath is likely a sociopath. Now that we’ve established that, there’s just one other aspect of Esdeath’s character left to discuss today. She falls in love with Tatsumi, the central protagonist in Akame ga Kill. At first, you may think this is impossible. However, to restate what I pointed out earlier, it’s not out of the question for a sociopath to be able to feel some kinds of love. They can almost certainly feel natural romantic and sexual attraction.

Esdeath fancies Tatsumi’s appearance and mannerisms, such as his “cute” face, toned body, and wholehearted smile. So there’s a strong element of physical fondness. But Esdeath isn’t overcome with lust or anything. She wants the experience of falling in love, including missing the other person, wanting to know the other person on a deep level, and simply spending time in each other’s company. Esdeath achieves all this as she grows attached to Tatsumi. She is more open and vulnerable with him than with anyone else.

Of course, Esdeath’s love is not blind or absolute. Duty is still more important than unity with Tatsumi. She makes this clear on several occasions when Tatsumi tries to persuade her to join the revolutionaries. Abandoning her position as general and protector of the capital is not an option. Even when it comes to love, Esdeath stays rational (by her line of reason, anyway.) But note, as she is dying from Akame’s poison, the ice queen holds Tatsumi’s body to her own for comfort and peace. Though she probably cannot feel true empathy for him, it’s hard to argue Esdeath doesn’t really love Tatsumi.

Akame ga Kill is richer in interesting characters and themes than some people give it credit for. Esdeath is a prime example, a character sparking much thought and discussion. This concludes all the thoughts on Esdeath I wanted to address today. I hope my writing gave you some new insights into her character. Thank you so much for reading, and have a good one!


PATREON

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4 comments

  1. Great post. Esdeath is incredible and her relationship with Tatsumi was on of the highlights of the series for me. It opened so many doors and gave us some wonderful insights into just how complex some of these characters are.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Awesome post. I have never thought about some of the angles about Esdeath that you wrote about. She has always intrigued me as a character. Although she is responsible for great evil, she had this other side that always made her seem human. Esdeath as a character wasn’t someone I could put into a neat box. I have always wondered what would have happened if Esdeath had chosen to side with Tatsumi. But as you pointed out, she was never going to break her duty.

    Liked by 1 person

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