Who the hell is Kumagawa Misogi?
This post is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2017 project, where anime bloggers post everyday for 12 days leading up to Christmas. Check this post out for more information.
That’s a good question you ask. Not many people know what Medaka Box is, let alone one of it’s principle antagonists and antihero, Kumagawa Misogi.
And that’s a real shame. Of all the manga serialised in Jump, I would argue that Medaka Box is one of the best. Not only is it a very solid battle manga, but it goes further than that – analysing the genre along with it’s tropes, turning it’s conception inside out and challenging the viewer to meditate on it’s subject matter in various ways.
It’s also surprising – not only because it hardly got any coverage despite being in Jump, the world’s biggest manga magazine, but because it seems quite natural to think that the staff behind it would have drawn people in. Penned by Nisio Isin, who is most likely one of contemporary Japan’s most famous and beloved authors, having written countless series, one of them being the hugely adored and popular Monogatari series, which is very popular with western audiences, with the Kizumonogatari prequel film trilogy even getting a limited release in cinemas in the US and the UK. The artist, Akira Akatsuki, is less known but still very talented and prolific.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that this post will be a very good way of getting people to pay attention to the series. I’m going to be focusing on one of the best elements of Medaka Box, Kumagawa Misogi, and therefore I’m not going to be talking about the series as a whole. I want to talk more about what makes Kumagawa work as a character, what he represents, and why I relate to him so much. Furthermore, in order to do so I’m going to have to tread into spoiler territory, so this may not be the best post to read if you’d like to head into the series spoiler-free. Even so, I hope this post offers some level of enjoyment to those who have seen the series, or simply don’t care about spoilers.
Immediately, Kumagawa’s presentation in the manga is striking. In contrast to the youthful designs of the students, and in further contrast to the over-the-top designs of the Thirteen Party that pay homage to their abilities, Kumagawa’s design is plain and therefore odd. From the onset, he seems out of place and therefore threatening – as something along the lines of his existence had not appeared in the story until the Minus arc.
Kumagawa’s character design in his rigid, black imperial style uniform paired with long, black hair and black eyes, is the polar opposite of Medaka’s free-flowing character design. With her unique way of wearing the uniform; cool, calm and meditated blue eyes; and a flowing hairstyle that at once suggests tenacity but also compassion, this is easy to see. Furthermore, if we compare his character design to the leader of the Thirteen Party, Oudo, we can see the difference in personalities even more clearly. Despite both acting as antagonists in the story, they couldn’t be further from each other in terms of presentation.
Whereas Oudo’s powerful and confident demeaner is highlighted by his design’s particular focus on golden hair, suggesting elegance and kingship; and his broad, healthy frame, suggesting power and confidence; Kumagawa’s jet black and lifeless design suggests a darkness that goes beyond the type of “passionate” villain that Oudo exemplifies. His design betrays nothing to the viewer, unlike the Thirteen Party’s, which instantly clues us in to the fact that his type of antagonism will be of a distinctly more evil variety than Oudo’s.
Beyond character design, the way that Akatsuki presents his abilities is also incredibly unique. Instead of choosing something typical as a weapon, Akatsuki instead utilises screws – something that has never been done before in any series before, or at least not in any I’ve seen. Moreover, thanks to this unique presentation, Akatsuki is also able to explain the nature of his abilities “All Fiction” and “Book Maker” much more easily. The gore created by using screws to pierce people is shocking to say the least, since the image is so unusual, which makes it all the more impressive when Kumagawa is able to make such gore “fiction” and return the scene to normal.
Akatsuki also explores the logic of his screw motif-based ability with the introduction of “Book Maker”, as the ability manifests itself in a flat-head screw, instead of the usual Philips-head screws. The fact that the “Book Maker” screw is long and sharp also contrasts it immediately with the shorter, seemingly more savage Philips-head screw, immediately suggesting the difference in nature of the abilities. As the series progresses and Kumagawa develops more abilities, Akatsuki continues to develop the screw premise and always manages to find succinct yet unique ways to present Kumagawa’s abilities.
Overall, I think it’s clear that both Isin and Akatsuki loved writing and drawing Kumagawa respectively. He has the coolest moments in the series, and is always impeccably presented throughout the series. Some would argue that Medaka or Zenkichi have the best moments, but some elements in their presentation – the ecchi elements in Medaka’s case and the presentation of Zenkichi’s abilities in his case – make their presentation flawed in comparison to Kumagawa’s. Thanks to this impeccable presentation, Kumagawa is able to initially draw our attention and keep us entertained as well as invested in him as a character.
As I already hinted at in exploring the presentation of Kumagawa, it is clear just from the designs alone that Kumagawa is Medaka’s ideological opposite.
What can be inferred from the character designs is largely accurate, at least on a basic level. Whereas Medaka acts like a goddess, helping everyone and anyone no matter what they need, regarding the world with a quiet confidence, as suggested by her free-flowing and confident character design, Kumagawa is like a vengeful spirit – feeding off of misery and misfortune, and in turn spreading it wherever he goes. His black gaze framed by his black hair condemns anyone he meets to misery, and is unsettling as a character due to his rather plain design when compared with the other characters.
To anyone who hasn’t read the manga, all this may sound a little ridiculous – and it is. The previous two arcs of the manga had already underscored the ridiculousness of it’s premise – a perfect high school girl who unconditionally loves everyone, an almost Jesus-like character, fulfilling requests in a very over-the-top and shounen-esque manner. The subsequent introduction of Kumagawa in the Minus arc offers a fantastic opposite dimension to this developing theme.
By juxtaposing Medaka’s God-like ideology with Kumagawa’s demon-like one, this duality allows our understanding to deepen of both characters since we are able to understand both sides of the same coin. In later arcs also, where Isin challenges the premise of Medaka’s character, it is because of Kumagawa and his characterisation that we are able to engage with and understand such a development.
He may be Medaka’s opposite in an ideological sense, but also in a personal sense as well. The Kurokami family raised Medaka in the lap of luxury, where she wanted for nothing and was loved by all. Therefore, her sense of charity and compassion comes from a recognition of her own status in society, and a subsequent desire to allow others to feel the same love she was treated with. No matter how you look at it, in this sense Medaka truly is a good person.
Kumagawa is the opposite. Mistreated by society and abandoned, instead of choosing a progressive path towards the future, he chose a path of destruction, resolving to show everyone just how bad life can be, and turning them therefore into a “Minus” – one who has given up on the world. His resolve is a lot more childish than Medaka’s – whereas she acts out of resolve and understanding, he acts out of raw emotion and childish rage.
In turn, because Kumagawa has no resolve and no drive beyond base emotional instincts, his loyalty is also undermined – not just to his friends and comrades, but also to his ideology itself. The only reason Kumagawa acts as a villain is because he knows nothing else – he has never considered a higher purpose other than the road he has ended up on.
Therefore, even though in the Minus arc Kumagawa does indeed act as Medaka’s ideological opposite, as the story goes on, and as Kumagawa develops this becomes impossible for him as he begins to consider things outside of his original childish viewpoint. He becomes less of a counter-point to Medaka, and begins to develop in his own way, breaking free of this narrative role.
Even so, the duality between Medaka and Kumagawa in the Minus arc is not only interesting thematically, but also incredibly important narratively, since it lays the foundations for us to begin to understand Medaka’s character, which is incredibly important for later developments in the story.
As I’ve already hinted, the importance of Kumagawa in the story as an opposite for Medaka quickly declines after the Minus arc. Instead, his development as a character is placed at the forefront, which goes on to undermine his ability to act as an opposite for Medaka.
Since Kumagawa was alone from childhood, he never attempted to make friends. He always believed that they would abandon him much like the world did – and therefore never placed trust, much less ever respected anyone. The only person he ever really admired was Medaka, although this expresses itself through hatred. During the Minus arc, Kumagawa does assemble several Minuses (people who possess special abilities like Kumagawa since they have rejected the world), yet only does so in order to have the necessary numbers to challenge Medaka’s student council with his own.
It is in the Medaka’s Successor arc that Kumagawa first learns to trust and respect others in his relationship with the Candidate Student Council. Since the Candidates are opposed to Medaka, wanting to replace her and her ideology with Ajimu’s, they find a kindred spirit in the joker of the student council – Kumagawa. Even though he agrees to become vice president, this because Medaka wants a second-in-command who challenges her (which reminds a lot of Hunter x Hunter’s Netero), and therefore he becomes part of the council despite not being particularly loyal to it. Because the he and the Candidate Student Council share this antagonistic role, he begins to act more like a ‘senpai’, especially towards Ima Takarabe, whom he mentors and bullies in equal measure.
Quickly it becomes apparent to Kumagawa that giving up on the world was counter-productive. He recognises that although the world mistreated him, to give up on the world means denying future happiness. It’s not as though he can immediately reconcile his past trauma, but by forming connections with others he recognises that the past is the past. As is typical of Jump, this change can be summed up in a change of catchphrase – from his constant underscoring of the futile nature of existence with “All Fiction”, to his declaration at the end of the Minus arc that “Even though I’m not cool, or strong, or just, or beautiful, or cute, or pretty, I want to beat the cool, strong, just, beautiful, cute, and pretty people”, and finally to his realisation that the essence of a Minus is “Even if you lose. Even if you don’t win. Even if you look like an idiot… Through all of that, we Minus always laugh”.
Through this, we can see Kumagawa’s development from an initially childish perspective, rejecting everything due to his perceiving of society and life as futile and meaningless, to his realisation that this perspective was due to childishness and jealousy, and that he does actually want to integrate with society, to his final perspective that the essence of being a loser is being able to understand suffering, deal with it, and move on with a smile, even though that is the last thing a loser wants to do.
Although Kumagawa’s character development sees the most traction during the Medaka’s Successor arc, subtle important developments also occur during the Jet Black Bride arc and the Unknown Shiranui arc. Through fighting alongside the student council, particularly with Zenkichi, he is able to form yet more connections with others and open his heart more. What’s more important however, is that Kumagawa begins to adopt less of an ego-centric focus – fighting for Zenkichi and then Medaka in the Jet Black Bride arc and Unknown Shiranui arc respectively.
This change leads to the final point of his development during the Bouquet Toss to the Future Arc – where he reconciles his feelings towards Medaka and is able to properly explain them to her. Throughout Kumagawa’s life, Medaka has been the source of his hatred, which stems from his frustration that he admires her so much yet can never be like her. He places her on a pedestal, and then is frustrated whenever he is reminded that he can never be like her.
Yet at the end of the penultimate arc, Kumagawa is finally able to view Medaka as an equal – he says “Bye bye, human” to her – finally acknowledging her as a human and as equal, taking her down from the pedestal he had placed her on. Now he no longer greets her with jealousy or hatred, yet with respect and gratitude that she has allowed him to grow as much as he has.
After this arc, his subsequent disappearance suggests a journey similar to that of enlightenment – having reconciled everything, no longer repressing emotions or allowing them to dominate him, Kumagawa feels enough at peace to therefore throw everything away. It is a perfect inversion of his initial motivating desire – he wishes for everything to become “Fiction”, since “reality” causes him so much pain.
But now, having grown, he is able to realise that both “Fiction” and “reality” are nothing but two sides of the same coins, concepts that both exist in stasis and in conflict. For Kumagawa, to abandon “reality” does not necessarily mean to enter “Fiction; and neither does wishing for something to become “Fiction” necessarily mean it cannot therefore be part of “reality”. Thus we can see the dialectical relationship between the two concepts that Kumagawa symbolises.
We’ve all had times in life where we’ve felt like the whole world was against us. Sometimes, we lash out and act in childish ways – I know I have, many times.
It’s this universal understanding of suffering and frustration that allows us to connect with Kumagawa as a character. He too, has been mistreated by the world and feels like there is no more hope. Because of this, he lashes out in a childish manner, wishing for everything to be destroyed. Obviously, we don’t have superpowers, but on a base emotional level we understand Kumagawa’s plight.
To be honest, I do have a soft spot for emotionally weak male characters. Shinji Ikari, the protagonist of one of my favourite anime that you may or may not have heard of, Neon Genesis Evangelion, was incredibly important to me when I first watched the show at the age of about 13. From Ikari, I’ve found many flawed characters through which I am able to channel myself – more recently Rei Kiriyama from Sangatsu no Lion and Yakumo Yuurakutei from Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.
But what makes Kumagawa so special is the way he comes to terms with his status as a loser. At first, he reacts like anyone would, with rage and despair, yet after forming meaningful relationships with others he begins to change his relationship with his status as the loser. Because he is a loser, he is able to understand the feelings of other losers and outcasts. He uses that knowledge to guide others away from the path he used to walk, mainly the Candidate Student Council. Eventually, his outcome on life becomes more progressive, telling others that essence of a loser is that no matter what, they continue to smile. It takes a kind of stupidity and tenacity to succeed in life, such qualities that losers have more than anyone else.
Kumagawa’s relationship with and eventual reconciliation with his status as a loser has been very inspiring to me over the year of 2017. This year has been a year in which I’ve found myself in lots of new situations with many difficult situations. I went to university, lived away from home, ran out of money in, hated people, loved people, wandered with no purpose, found purpose only to lose it again… Now I’ve moved to a different country on the other side of the world and have found those problems to have increased tenfold.
But as Kumagawa showed me, despite it all, you have to be stupid enough to continue to smile. Those who have been in the gutter have seen far more of the world, and have learned far more about life than those who exists above it, averting their eyes and continuing without faltering. In life, there are many people who experience times as a loser. What’s critical is that they take the example of the Good Loser, Kumagawa Misogi.
Did I reach too far in my analysis of Kumagawa there? I could really write an entire book on the series, so there might be some parts where I’ve tried to cram in too much or not eleborated enough. Please let me know what you think down below or via Twitter. I’ll be continuing the Jump theme through to tomorrow, where I’ll be talking about an unfinished series possibly even better than Medaka Box…