This is where the novel ends.
Given the way the series has played out to this point, I figured we’d kinda get to know Ox with this episode. The novel has some obligatory lines about how he likes to eat out alone, and I figured they’d go in that direction. We’d see him during his “off” time doing his solo thing or whatever.
But given the way they’ve portrayed him in the series, it makes sense that we don’t get to see that “private” side of Ox, because he doesn’t really have that side to him. We learn everything we need to know about him as a person with his encounter with Tiger. He is not a man who reflects. He has to pause for a moment and actually think about his personal philosophy, because he’s internalized it so much that it’s second nature. He decides what he believes to be right, then he does it. There’s no looking back in his life. No regrets. No hesitation. No reflection. To actually learn about his past would be misunderstanding his character, because he does not define himself by his past actions. He’s defined by constantly pressing forward, and the one moment where he shows any doubt and regret is the moment where his actions lead to his death. Even in that moment, death is but another decision to make, and it’s only the overwhelming power of Zombie Monkey that keeps him from carrying through with his decision.
The finale is interesting in that it all boils down to the four least humane characters in the series. Ox’s personal philosophy is so forward-thinking and single-minded (very appropriate for the OX sign) that he can come off as robotic at times. He’s honorable and capable of compassion, but that lack of self-reflection makes him very odd in comparison to someone as flawed and human as Tiger. Monkey’s zombified, but even in life she was this unbreakable sage figure who’s only “flaw” was her inability really comprehend how deceitful normal humans are. Rabbit is Rabbit, who doesn’t even see death as an obstacle, since he necromanticizes himself to keep fighting. They’ve all come off as “above” everyone, not so much in terms of how they saw themselves, but just in terms of who they are. It’s their beliefs that make them seem not quite human.
Then there’s Rat.
This episode finally shows what his deal is: he can see into the future, play out 100 scenarios, and choose which one to “exist.” It’s like he’s reading a choose your own adventure book or playing a visual novel, except he’s reading ahead before officially turning the page or saving before each decision. You can probably call it cheating, but any winner in this sort of fictional tournament usually gets some sort of “cheat” in their favor. Plot points fall in their favor, and the creator “rigs” things to make sure their chosen character wins. Rat just has an active hand in his process, in as much as a fictional character can do so. He gets to see all of the author’s potential outcomes and choose the one that works in his favor the most.
He’s not quite human not because of what he believes, but because of what he can do. He talks a lot about going to school and other normal teenager things, and you get the sense that if he weren’t some special Taisen fighter he’d just be a dissatisfied teen dealing with typical youthful angst. His power makes him out of touch with reality, not so much because he’s unaware, but because he’s aware of so many potential realities. Chicken may be able to see through the eyes of birds, but she’s just getting a literal bird’s eye view of one reality. Rat is an outsider not just from his peers at school, but from existence in general. He has some sort of existential enlightenment, where he sees all uncertainty, choose to make something certain, but still has to hold onto the 99 other potential certainties. Everything is real. Everything is lost. He really is “killing all.” His is the burden of a god.
That makes the finale a clash of titans. We have a Satanic figure in Rabbit, a resurrected Christ figure in Monkey (corrupted as modern religion has corrupted Christianity), an ubermensch/Greek hero archetype in Ox, and a boy with the awareness of an actual God. And in the end, while said God may be the last one standing, it’s the most humane of them all who actually gets what they want:
Tiger, who died and got her wish before the gods destroyed themselves.
Yeah, Rat may have won, but now he’s beholden to the real powers that be. His ability to perceive possibilities means nothing when the backers behind the Taisen have absolute control over the situation. Rat can see all of his potential futures, and in none of them is he allowed his much-desired nap.
It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the remaining episode. Some people say it’ll deal with the prequel manga chapter. I haven’t read that, so I’m in the dark for the first time since finishing the novel. Or maybe there’ll be some segue to the sequel novel. Or maybe something totally new. Maybe it’s just an entire episode of Rat hanging out at school while he tries to decide on his wish.