[The following article contains spoilers for the manga series Platinum End, through volume 9.]
When I saw the words, “The creators of Death Note return,” scrawled across the back cover of Platinum End’s beautifully illustrated, slightly holographic cover, I knew I was in for yet another ride. From mangakas now famous for their not-so-subtle religious symbolism and allegory, and their ability to turn even the most internalized mind games into a visual treat, I had high hopes for Platinum End, and it seems Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata did not fail to meet them.
Platinum End is an ongoing manga series that began publishing in November 2015 — fact that really rings true when readers are subjected to an obnoxious child character wearing a suspiciously Donald Trump-esque mask, and suspiciously Trumpian beliefs of the value of human worth based on net worth championed by the series’ current villain. The series itself follows Mirai Kakehashi, a high-schooler stopped mid-suicide-attempt by an angel who offers him a second chance at life. Of course, this chance can only be taken if he also agrees to participate in a free-for-all fight to the death with twelve other humans and their angels — all of whom were also suicidal — to determine who will be the next God.
This premise has carried on through 9 volumes, and has culminated in what has been set up to be a final showdown between Mirai and Kanade Uryu, a wealthy, attractive young man who announces in the latter third of Volume 9 that should he become god, he plans to eliminate the impoverished for the “benefit” of everyone else. By the last chapter, the two are locked in a duel, taking turns firing instant-kill angelic arrows at each other, whilst rattling off monologues as Mirai’s two allies watch helplessly. And, in classic manga fashion, Volume 9 ends as the two are point blank with each other, leaving us with the following series of panels.
This last spread of five pages is striking in numerous ways, and are wonderfully reflective of both Mirai and Kanade as both characters and what they stand for. The first page (and note that the panels are intended to be read from right to left) shows Mirai standing defiantly, bathed in shadow completely. He’s hunched over slightly, reflecting his space as a pacifist conflicted in his role as executioner for the greater good, but he’s standing more solidly than he has for the past chapter. We has readers are unable to read his expression, only his body language. It doesn’t seem to matter what Mirai is feel himself, it matters that he’s still standing against unlikely odds for his survival, and against a man who stands against everything he believes in; the chance to find happiness for all people.
The next spread of two large panels gives readers a chance to actually see Mirai’s face, a close up of eyes filled with uncharacteristic rage. He speaks definitively, not trying to talk Kanade out of the battle as he’d done with others before, not looking at him sympathetically. There’s finally a moment where readers can see Mirai’s intent to stop him, no matter what. Kanade is seen in profile, where there are two things of note; First of all, the fact that Kanade is drawn lighter than our hero. With bright blonde hair and light reflecting off his suit, he contrasts starkly with Mirai’s dark, hooded figure. It’s an interesting flip on standard character design principles, where artists associate the villain with darkness and the hero with light. One could argue the darkness signifies Mirai’s slight hiccup in his pacifist beliefs, or it could emphasize Kanade’s belief in himself as some sort of holy figure or savior. Additionally, the reader can get another piece of personality from Kanade’s figure; As he’s not looking straight on at Mirai, he doesn’t see him as an adversary worth worrying about. Mirai, on the other hand, won’t break eye contact. This dynamic is seen frequently throughout the two characters’ interactions, particularly with Kanade, who is often drawn looking down at other characters or looking at them from the side. In both mind and body, he believes he is above all others.
The next spread reinforces a lot of what was expressed in the last two pages, as well as dialogue revealing Kanade’s acknowledgement of Mirai’s change in personality — “The look in your eyes has changed” — and how he views that not as a reaction to his beliefs towards impoverished people, but simply a reaction to what he views as Mirai’s impending death. Kanade sees Mirai’s change as fueled out of fear, when it is far more likely fueled out of resentment for him. He emphasizes this further when he taunts Mirai by offering a handicap by “coming closer, if you want”, while Mirai reinforces his own mental fortitude by remaining where he is and practically ordering Kanade to go along with it. Again, Kanade is drawn looking slightly up, not quite directly at Mirai, while Mirai continues to keep unbroken contact with his adversary. One unique piece of the page is the panel featuring Mirai’s ally Nanato Mukaido, who is drawn with a fearful face, hunched down in the smallest panel on the page, representing how helpless he is to help Mirai or make an impact between those two he’s watching. He’s simply trapped between them.
The final page of Volume 9 features a lovely turn-around, placing the audience in the view of their hero, staring back at a villain standing proudly, arrogantly, bathed in the same darkness Mirai was before. However, instead of being hunched like Mirai, he stands wide-spread and intimidating, taking up more space than Mirai despite being in the background. Yet, in perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, while Kanade’s arrow is pointed vaguely at Mirai, almost at the space he’s contorted away from, Mirai’s is pointed straight at Kanade’s heart. At the very least, it’s one last illustration of Mirai’s determination to get out alive. The last thing of note is in the final two panels, showing close-ups of the two characters’ eyes. Mirai’s are tired, but clearly in light, with a point of light reflecting in his eyes. They are colored and full, looking clearly at Kanade. He speaks pointedly, showing his reservations about Kanade’s true intentions in this “fair” duel. Kanade responds cryptically in return with a characteristic insult, the perfect cliffhanger. But more notably are his eyes. Despite being lighter in design, his eyes are covered in shadow — fitting, particularly as such design is the quintessential signifier of “villain” in manga — and his eyes are empty, with barely the pupil visible. If eyes are truly windows to the soul, then our artist has given us a soulless villain hellbent on his own goals.
It’s a wonderful feat that Platinum End’s artist is able to turn what is basically a turn-based sharpshooter stand-off into not only a visible game of will, but a play on various pieces of hero-villain symbolism. Readers are eager to see such a drastic shift in Mirai’s attitudes, reflected in his darker composure, and our villain shines brightly, just as he likely sees himself in his mind. Both radiate a sense of intimidation in wildly different ways. It’s a wonderfully designed cliffhanger to what is almost certainly going to be the conclusion of the first arc of the series. As Platinum End continues to speak on meaningful topics such as poverty, suicide, control, religion and government, particularly in the political climate of 2019, I’m excited to see how the series continues to carry its statements alongside its unique artistic style and symbolism.