It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this in my time blogging about anime, but the thing that bothers me the most about most these “fight to the death” tournament scenarios is how they always revolve around how you end them. The concept is abhorrent and immoral, therefore the story should be about defeating whatever forces are behind the carnage. Like, if this were reality, yeah, I’d be all for that. But it ain’t, and I’m not interested in how we solve the problem. I’m interested in how the problem plays itself out. That’ the horror– seeing how twisted things are in this given world that such spectacle is accepted and celebrated. To defeat it or prove it wrong, the way Hunger Games or Akuma no Riddle or even something as awesome as The Running Man do, kinda deflates the scenario. It may be cathartic, but that’s not what I’m seeking.
What I do like to see is a character spit in the eye of “tradition” and show that they, as an individual, can go beyond the parameters of the ritualized slaughter and achieve a personal win. To give into the tournament and only think of winning is ultimately allowing “them” to win, even if you succeed. If you set your own goals and carry through, even in death you’ve proven yourself better than those who seek to exploit you. Reality rarely allows for the grand scale catharsis of defeating evil forces, but it does allow for one to give evil the finger, and I find that far more “grounding” in this sort of story than anything. To be human is to be oneself even in the face of death.
That’s why Tiger’s my favorite character in Juni Taisen. Yeah, sure, she’d like to win the Taisen, but she’s here to meet Ox and prove to him that she’s worthy of being on his level as a warrior. The only other time they’ve met, he mistook her for a civilian and “saved” her from a combat situation. It was that moment that shook Tiger out of her drunken “I’ve lost myself” phase and allowed her to find her personal michi. It’s a bit of a Revolutionary Girl Utena moment, where the rescued party doesn’t want to become the object worth saving but the one doing the saving. It isn’t taken to the same extreme as Utena, since Tiger doesn’t so much want to be Ox as she wants to be on par with him, but I think the comparison works there. She’s a different person, but Tiger believes that person can be just as worthy.
That’s Tiger’s wish. If she won the tournament, that’s exactly what she’d ask for– a bit esoteric given that the party she’s seeking recognition from would be dead, but I doubt his passing without giving said recognition would keep Tiger from making that request. The anime mentions this, but doesn’t make it quite as clear as the novel allowed. The novel also emphasizes it the way I’ve talked about above:
She was Tora, the Fighter of the Tiger, drunkard and wielder of the Drunken Fist– and in the history of the Zodiac War, she was the first to lose and still get her wish.
Tiger won the Juni Taisen on a personal level the moment she sacrificed herself to save Ox. She took his “think of the right thing, then do the right thing” philosophy to heart and did just that. She saved him from Rabbit’s corpse’s sneak attack and was mortally wounded in the process. Before that moment, she had already received Ox’s respect with him challenging her to a duel, but in her sacrifice she had done something no one else had ever done– save him. Ox wasn’t putting the pieces together in terms just how important it all was for Tiger, and Tiger isn’t the sort to spell it out (especially since Ox never recognizes her), but on some level Ox understood that her action was carried out exactly like his own. It was the first time someone did something for him the way he’d do it for himself.
Ox may respect others, but for a man like him, this was the only way he’d ever truly see someone else as his equal, or possibly even his better.
And thus Tiger is able to spit in the eye of everything that’s come before. Her actions are contrary to everything the Taisen is about, yet she got her wish. That’s giving everything the finger to the bittersweet end.