I absolutely understand the need for teamwork. As any shrewd person, I pronounce myself a “team player” on resumes and at job interviews. But while I can exist within a team, I thrive on my own. Well…at the very least, I enjoy being on my own much more than than being part of a group effort. I can usually get by being a lone ranger on smaller assignments, but when I tackle the big ones, my white whales, I realize how helpless I often am.
In The Boy and the Beast, the idea of the whale and fighting both on your own and by yourself takes center stage. The movie jumps full into the whale analogy, in fact, as Kaeda teaches Ren to read through a book he first discovered in his earlier life on the humanly plane: the classic, Moby Dick (part of the many interesting cues and symbolism in the film). I’m a Melville fan and treasure the novel, but even those that haven’t read it know about Ahab’s desire to seek revenge against the titular whale who took his leg.
While discussing the work, Kaeda mentions that she believes the central conflict in the classic to be Ahab versus himself, not Ahab v. Moby Dick. That conflict translates straight into Ren, who is fighting his own inner demons as he squares off against Ichirôhiko, who is doing the same. Ichirôhiko even appears as an incandescent whale during their struggle. And while Ren is ultimately victorious in what amounts to a one-on-one battle, it’s not lost on him that a village raised him to become the man who could stop the evil that had taken over his foe.
Moby Dick also showed up in Re:Zero, and as with The Boy and the Beast, in a form that doesn’t necessarily fit with New England whaling. The scourge of travelers in the Re:Zero world, these “whales” don’t swim; they fly. And they destroy.
This series also has it’s Ahab, the “Sword Demon,” Wilhelm van Astrea. But while Melville’s Ahab has gone mad in his quest for revenge, Wilhelm remains calm and wise, even though he’s lost something more precious than a leg; his wife was killed by a whale. Wilhelm is a good team player (unlike me). He knows, after all, it will take quite a fighting force to kill the whales, especially since his wife, Theresia, was a better with the sword than he.
At some point, both warriors, Wilhelm and Ren, realized that they couldn’t go it alone. They realize that community isn’t just preferable; it is absolutely necessary. I wonder what it was like for these proud warriors to receive their communities. Wilhelm was joined by Subaru and a host of fighters. Though they were there for different reasons than Wilhelm, some knew of his past, and they fought for him as well. And Ren was of course supported by a father figure who raised him with love, a companion who sacrificed to teach him, and many others along the way.
And, while I struggle with the truth that I can’t always go it alone, that like Ren and Wilhelm, I need community to help me with struggles against my white whales, I also realize this: when I’m not the fighter, when I’m not center stage, I have a different role, and it’s just as vital. I need to be part of community myself, to be there for others as they have their challenges, understanding that I can’t just preach about the need for community; I need to be it. And “being it” means this, that when my loved ones are struggling, when they’re thrashing against the waves of a sea or the howling winds of a sky filled with a monstrous obstacle, they won’t ever have to go it alone.