Rakan Sawa and Chigusa Senrou in their best surrounding: flowers.
Title: Silver Diamond
Author/Creator: Shiho Sugiura
Media Type: Manga
Genre: Fantasy, drama
Warning: Major spoiler for Silver Diamond, especially for the story of Chigusa Senrou. I recommend not reading this if you are a fan but haven’t already discovered who or what Chigusa is. If you have, you’ll probably already know the rest of the stuffs mention here.
Also a lot of babbling, just so you know.
Honestly, I had a really hard time trying to figure out what to write about Silver Diamond. Should I write about the purpose of life? Should I write about conflict resolution and reconciliation? Should I write about fideism and humanism? Should I discuss evolution and intellectual design? Or should it be about soul, self, and free will?
My biggest problem is that Silver Diamond is all that and then some. Choosing to talk about one of them seems like a disservice to this long, complex, and exposition-ridden manga. The series didn’t start out that way, though. The first few volumes is pretty simple, like the start of any alternative universe story. The protagonist is somehow sent to an another world or another time and becomes somewhat of a savior to that world. This plot device is used over and over in so many manga and anime from the shojo side (e.g., Fushigi Yugi, Magic Knight Rayearth) to the shonen side (e.g., Inuyasha, Escaflowne). It is even prevailing in literatures (e.g., Narnia, The Neverending Story, Neverwhere, The Wizard of Oz). Surely, Silver Diamond isn’t different, is it?
Well, yes and no. If you say the devil is in the detail, you would be absolutely right.
Silver Diamond tells a story of a seventeen-year-old Rakan Sawa, a Japanese highschool student who lives alone after his family, his mother and grandfather, passed away. People in his community know him as a temperate and polite young man who lives virtuously and earnestly. Girls in his school and other schools in the area know him as a somewhat aloof cutie who looks his best with a bouquet of beautiful flowers he picks from his garden. He isn’t the school’s sport star or an outsider, just a normal school boy getting on with his life.
That is, until a man by the name Chigusa Senrou appears out of nowhere in his garden and point a strange looking gun at his face.
Chigusa is a rebel and an outcast who is ousted from his world after he tries to assassinate the Prince who, by the way, have the same face as Rakan. After they establish that Rakan is definitely not the Prince and that Chigusa is definitely in the wrong universe, they sit down and have a chat over a home-cooked dinner like civilized people.
Chigusa’s adventure with Rakan in the strange new world that is ours is hilarious, awkward, and adorable. At first, Chigusa’s behavior seems to be because the two worlds are very different down to how life operates. If you say Chigusa is a humanoid alien, it wouldn’t be too far off. However, once two more newcomers from that world arrive in Rakan’s garden, both of whom are clearly human, it is pretty obvious that even by that world’s standard Chigusa is an outlier.
Actually, he is called a monster, a man born to a clan that brings death and destruction to people in that world. Chigusa’s awkwardness isn’t only because his world is vastly different from ours, but he is physically and mentally different as well. His body contains cells of plants that help him heal quickly when he is injured, so he does not feel pain and he cannot die. His emotional response is limited to a small smile when he is content and a serious face when concentrating. Chigusa has only twelve years worth of memory when he looks as if he has reached his thirties, all of which he spent alone, so he barely knows how to interact with people around him without being a creep.
Knowing Rakan and being treated like a human being for the first time starts Chigusa’s growth as a person. And that is not exactly a one-way street. Rakan, by knowing Chigusa, discovers many things about himself. First, he discovers that he actually has something of a superpower. He is what people in Chigusa’s world called a Sanome (pronounced saa-no-may), the tree-growers, a precious being in a world that largely consisted of deserts. Having Chigusa helping out around the house also reminds Rakan of the loneliness that he refuses to acknowledge since his mother and grandfather died. Upon learning of the situation in Chigusa’s world and having that view confirmed by actually coming face to face with the Prince himself, Rakan is forced to accept his desire to leave his normal life behind and agree to help save Chigusa’s world.
So, unlike a lot of protagonists in this subgenre who are sent to the other world by accident, Rakan goes with Chigusa to his world voluntarily although probably with less thought given than someone who is going to switch universe should have. But Rakan is nothing if not optimistic. His can-do attitude and innate curiosity allow Rakan to survive and thrive in the strange new world. Not to mention that his honesty, earnestness, and exceptional empathy make it impossible for people to distrust or dislike him even though he is clearly different from them.
The most distinct characteristic of Rakan is his humanistic belief. In Chigusa’s world, there is an undertone of belief in universal order or divine providence. People don’t seem to have a strong belief in an omnipotent god that is a separate being from the universe, but rather the universe is god. When they use the word god, it is often used as somewhat of a synonym to divinity. The Prince is dubbed ‘the Child of God’ with his ability to prophesize and miraculously heal or save his believers, but, unlike religious figures in our history, he commands faith to himself and not to other supernatural beings.
Is it possible, though, for a medieval kind of understanding to have no strong belief in the existence of a god as a conscious entity but still have the belief in a divine providence? I think it derives largely from a view in East Asia that the universe has its own order separated from any supernatural beings and without any kind of conscious intention. One can say there is no omnipotent god in that system since nothing can disrupt the universal order. Since the Chigusa’s world is somewhat of a East Asian medieval fantasy written by a Japanese manga writer, I think it is safe to say that the view is translated into the story as well.
We only need to turn to the creatures in that world to see the presence of universal order. Aside from humans and Sanome, there are giant serpents trapped in rocks fed with human sacrifices that become rivers once they die. There are plants that can perform certain functions like providing shelters, keeping time of day, digging wells, or turn into weapons. There are stone-eating giant animals and animal-eating stone plants. Some humans can also create creatures of stones for their own use. The most vicious of the creatures is the Ayame (pronounced aa-yaa-may), creatures of the desert who feed on plants and humans, making them wither and die.
The Prince of this world, unknown to most people, is in fact a human Ayame.
The setup in the beginning pitches Sanome against Ayame, greenery against technology, and life against death — sort of like The Lord of the Rings if you think about it. That is actually true for the first ten volumes or so until something uncanny happens. Somehow, there are creatures that are both greenery and technology, creatures that seem to combine both life and death and transcend into immortality. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers find this development unsettling like myself since Shiho Sugiura is clearly breaking the rules she has painstakingly established for the first thousand pages.
The thing is the characters’ understanding, and by extension our understanding, of that world is flawed, like our understanding of our own world is flawed. Greenery and technology are not polar opposites, just like life and death might not be two opposite concepts either. If so, are Sanome and Ayame really nemeses or is there something else at work here?
The answer is, spoiler alert, yes, there is. The specific functions of the plants should have given it away right at the beginning but we, the readers, didn’t have enough information or the inclination to connect the dots until much later where everything is getting twisted on its head. The plants have functions because they were designed to have functions. These are living things that specifically serve the needs of human, so would it be such a shock that the world is designed for human and that there is actually a god as a separate being who is a creator in that world (although not the universe). Everything that has happened in that world for the past thousand years at least is really according to the divine providence.
Him being a god doesn’t guarantee that his providence is necessarily ‘good’, though.
The social structure, for one, is established by this god and designed to maintain the order of the world. Clans have roles and serve different functions in the larger society, much like the creatures serving larger functions in the natural world. Kingen clan, for instant, is the Mouth of God, the family guided closely by god to lead the people. However, the role of divine providence affects the culture more deeply than that. People in the clan have duties to their clan which is understandable in a desert world where resources are scarce. People prioritize their family’s survival by having parents judging the usefulness of their child at birth, a custom in which many societies in our world also followed. But since their society is very squeamish about killing their children, they give the ones with birth defects, taboo characteristics, or just unwanted numbered names. Hence born the caste of the ‘Numbered Children’, outcasts and slaves subjected to mistreatment, poverty, and starvation who are products of a pro-life belief in a world that cannot afford that belief. The ugliest part is that this caste system runs so deeply across all demographic that even when starvation isn’t an issue, children are still cast out and left to die because they cannot serve the interest of the family.
The biggest outcast in the grand scheme of things is the Senrou clan which the entire family is abhorred. Chigusa is constantly called a monster, a sinner, or a demon by people who come across him and know who he is. Of course, Chigusa as we know him is anything but a monster. He might be different, but we learn pretty quickly that he is not bad. Like ‘demons’ in East-Asian mythology, he is more chaotic than malign. The prejudice seems hasty and unjustified, and Rakan fights consistently to thwart that belief whenever it becomes an issue.
But if there is divine providence that guides this society, then the Senrou has to have a role. Chigusa thought he is meant to eradicate the Ayame as it was the only thing he remembered aside from his name when he woke up twelve years ago. But as he delves deeper, trying to regain his memory, he soon realize that something is amiss, especially after he discovers that his body also contains the cells of the Ayame. Amidst the confusion after the revelation, Chigusa’s body stops working like it used to and he knows he is about to go mad and die like every Senrou before him.
Not for the first time, though.
Okay, another big spoiler coming: there isn’t a Senrou clan. There has always been the one and the only Senrou, the Death God, sent to eradicate any potential harm to the world at large be it overpopulation or epidemics. This society, after all, places such high value on life that they would not destroy their own. But when the society decides to be virtuous at the peril of its own existence, god has to intervene, and Senrou is his hand of destruction as much as the Kingens is his hand of guidance. The prejudice of the people comes precisely from the fact that the presence of Senrou means many people are going to die and they do not understand why.
In the grand scheme of things, Senrou’s existence is a necessity. At a personal level, however, it is a catastrophe. Senrou has no way of coping the emotional consequence of the deeds he has done, a severe PTSD if you will. At the intellectual level, I think he understands the importance of his role, but that does not mean he has to like it. Being the hand of god and created by god means that he doesn’t have a choice. He is just a doll created for a single purpose. That realization is what drives Senrou to madness and suicide just to be revived and start the cycle over and over and over again.
And still, Chigusa freely admits that this god is good, that people has lived and thrived in this world because of him. The problem, Chigusa thinks, is with himself and not with god.
If that thought is not sad, I don’t know what is.
But Chigusa is right in a sense. The problem is not really with this god but with the notion that a sentient being that is created and artificial does not have rights over its body and decision, that it doesn’t have a soul so to speak. Rakan, of course, vehemently opposes this idea. To Rakan, a soul is not given but acquired through interaction with the world and experience with others that share it, again an idea that is prevailing in East Asian mythology. In Japan, there are the Tsukumogami, referring to spirits of tools or objects that have been around for so long they become self-aware. Ancient Chinese literature are full of demons, conscious beings that are born from objects or animals that exist for such a long time that they become conscious.
In a way, Rakan has been taming the demon Chigusa by teaching him empathy and the value of life in the same way that the monk Xuanzang tames Sun Wokung in Journey to the West. Wokung is a monkey demon born from a giant boulder high on a mountain. Although he has wrecked havoc on earth, heaven, and the underworld, Wukong is always treated as an individual with personality and needs by everyone he encounters including the gods. Chigusa never was, not even by his own creator. To say Rakan is pissed with this god would put it rather mildly.
So, as the story goes on, Silver Diamond becomes a tale about the battle between two belief systems. It pitches the belief in the individual against the belief in the divine and the belief in willpower against the universal order. Rakan’s enemy is no longer the Prince, but the idea that the individual is defined by their duties in the grand scheme of things rather than who they are as a person. And if Rakan has to take down god, the greatest offender there is, then he is going to do it.
And it is pretty clear which side of this argument Sugiura is in. She has been, since her first long-running fantasy series The Ice-cold Demon’s Tale, a believer in the potential of individuals and our ability to control what we become. Chigusa might start out being no better than the Terminator, but he comes to understand beauty, compassion, and sadness. He learns to see people for more than their functions and capabilities. Although the understanding of what it is to be human coupled with returning memories might have been the trigger to his deterioration, he is able to fight against his conditioning to become more than what he was designed and be free from his creator, like Wokung’s going from being a demon to being a god.
I can gush over Chigusa’s evolution for a long while, but I should point out Rakan’s role in this. Rakan’s persistent belief that Chigusa is good and that he is a person worthy of a sincere connection is what allows Chigusa to bear the burden of his memories as they return in full. Rakan is also a great inspiration for Chigusa. Rakan objects god for Chigusa. He is firm in his belief but never tries to impose them on others. Rakan gives his time and energy freely and sincerely and takes great satisfactory in helping others. I think over time Rakan becomes Chigusa’s reference to what being ‘good’ really is instead of an idea of a benevolent god.
That is all good and dandy if not for the fact that this development is pretty one-sided between Rakan and Chigusa. Rakan doesn’t change in a dramatic way that Chigusa does. He is so well-balanced and level-headed that usually he can always sort things out himself. Up until volume 19, I haven’t seen Rakan really struggle emotionally yet aside from when Chigusa is dying. And that is boring from a reader’s perspective. Call me a sadist, but even Ishuca, the most level-headed character in The Ice-cold Demon’s Tale, has his fair share of emotional turmoil and self-discovery. What makes Ice-cold very compelling is that no one in the story is static despite the humongous cast. With Silver Diamond, I have a feeling that most characters are static with only a few that actually show any growth.
The problem might be that Sugiura tries to grapple with too many big ideas in Silver Diamond that she doesn’t have the chance to really develop her characters in the way she did in Ice-cold. Since she ends this series at volume 27, there is still some space for Rakan’s character arc. Rakan still has to face his evil twin the Prince although the objective of his quest has been changed. There are also many unanswered questions like what role does the Ayame have in that world, what role really is of the Prince in the divine providence, who is Rakan’s father, can the world be saved, and is this god redeemable. Hopefully, in the process of getting those answers, we will get to see Rakan grows as a character as well.
It’s not that I don’t like Rakan as he is. I love both him and Chigusa dearly. I love the ideas he is behind like compassion, collaboration, respect, and empathy; I just can’t quite connect with him. I really want to see what is at stake personally for Rakan aside from his firmly held belief in a world where the living creatures choose their own fate, or what would it be for him to have that very belief challenged. After all, the free-world shaped by the individuals for the individuals is not guaranteed to be any better than the old one if it means overpopulation and fatal conflicts. The kind of willpower require to change that is enormous, but if there is anybody who is going to do it, it is Rakan. I am really looking forward to how the story in the last 8 volumes is going to play out. From what I know of Sugiura’s style, it is most likely a happy ending all around, but then the devil is always in the detail, isn’t it?