Content Warning—This article briefly discusses sexual assault as presented in both Boys Over Flowers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I love a good redemption story. From the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker to the conversion of Saul, stories about redemption strike a nerve. These tales remind us that our humanity remains beneath our own sin and failings.
As a culture, we cannot get enough of these stories. Anti-heroes remain popular among American audiences, with characters like Deadpool and Wolverine earning millions on film. Redemption arcs and redeemed villains are also common in anime and manga.
Much like in American comics, anti-heroes are common in shonen manga/anime. The villain-to- hero arc is especially prevalent in the Dragon Ball franchise, with the arc repeating itself as characters like Piccolo and Buu transition from nemesis to hero. One of the most intense of these arcs is that of Vegeta.
When Vegeta is first introduced, he is violent and bitter, working to gain power and destroy worlds for Frieza. Over time and with the help of Goku, though, Vegeta transitions away from villainy. In the current arc of the Dragon Ball Super manga, Vegeta is working to save the universe from villainous aliens. His story takes him from murderous space pirate to heroic father and defender of Earth. It is amazing to read and I find myself constantly cheering for heroic Vegeta.
Characters transitioning from bad to good is also common to shoujo manga. An incredibly powerful example of this comes from Boys Over Flowers, a manga series featuring Tsukushi Makino of Eitoku Academy. Makino is poor, while all the other students at Eitoku are incredibly wealthy. Early on, through no fault of her own, Makino ends up on the bad side of the four most popular boys in the school—the F4 (Four Flowers). She is targeted by them with a “declaration of war” for her perceived crimes. However, Makino is not going to take it.
Makino declares war on the boys, calling out their ring leader Tsukasa Domyouji. No one ever called out Domyouji before, and this enrages him. While Domyouji’s rage eventually shifts to respect, early in the series he is violent and horrific.
In the second chapter, Domyouji forces a group of teenage boys to sexually assault Makino. If Rui Hanazawa does not show up, Makino would have been raped. Domyouji has no respect for Makino’s agency as a human being. The trend continues when he kidnaps Makino in an attempt to “help” her fit in better. Later, Domouji forces a kiss on Makino and lies to make the school think she kissed him. In his attempts to hurt Makino, he also bullies and attacks other students, including Makino’s only male friend, Kazuya Aoike. Over and over, Domyouji uses others as tools for his pleasure, living in a bubble of wealth that protects him from consequences. If he acts in violence, nothing happens. Teachers never discipline Domyouji for fear of financial repercussions, and so this boy rules the school as a tyrant.
Yet, Makino stands firm and forces Domyouji’s hand.
As Domyouji deals with the impact of his behavior, readers witness a change. He softens his interactions with Makino, and has fewer outbursts of anger toward his fellow students. Domyouji ends his feud with Kazuya with minimal conflict. At one point, Domyouji even apologize for his actions.
Merely by standing firm, Makino forces Domyouji to change. He begins to see people as people.
I have yet to complete the series; therefore, I do not know the final outcome of Domyouji’s arc. However, at first glance Domyouji reminds me of another villain turned hero from American pop culture—Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS).
A brief history of BtVS—unto each generation a slayer is chosen to protect the world from the threat of demons and vampires. Our generation got Buffy.
Spike is one of the main villains of Season 2 and continues to be a character of consequence throughout the series. He is a soulless vampire who is looking to destroy Sunnydale to create a haven for vampires. As is common, Spike is stopped. However, there is more to him than genocidal maniac.
Spike is a poet and musician. He evokes emotion in his words and feels them, hard. The most incredible is that Spike has a sense of guilt. While he murdered indiscriminately for generations, there was nagging within him. When his mother goes insane in her vampirism, Spike mourns. After Angel goes dark and attempts world domination, Spike turns to Buffy to stop it.
Yet, Spike is still a soulless monster. He uses Harmony and later Buffy sexually. His animalistic urges lead Spike to nearly rape Buffy. This descent into sexual violence leads to to him repenting and seeking a soul.
Much like Makino helps Domyouji, Buffy helps Spike reconnect with his humanity. The very people that force Domyouji and Spike to confront their evil are also the ones that reminds them of their humanity.
Christ serves this same role for me. Jesus loves without judgement. He forgives us despite our hefty sins. He chose to take the punishment for our sins on Himself at the cross and suffer in our place. Yet, Jesus also rebukes us with the power of His word and through the Holy Spirit, remolds us as Christians.
I am not a murderer, rapist, or space pirate (darn it), but I’m no better than Vegeta, Domyouji, or Spike. I hold sins of lust, jealousy, and anger in my heart. I need a Goku, Makino, or Buffy in my life to force me to be better. I need that presence to show me when I fail. I need someone who cares about me to show grace despite my flaws. I need Christ.
The Dragon Ball (original, Z, and Super) and Boys Over Flowers manga can be read digitally at Shonen Jump, or purchased on Amazon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be streamed on Hulu and purchased on Amazon.