Ever seen a shirt advertised to you that looks like this?:
Yeah, they’re advertised to me a lot, especially on Facebook. They’re all really similar, but the character depicted, the color scheme and the text layout vary. The first one I ever saw had Korra, my favorite Avatar and my first cosplay, from Nickelodeon’s wildly successful The Legend of Korra, which I’ve written about on here before (you know, back when I actually blogged regularly and produced exciting content).
The one above appears to be Naruto. The ones below are that shiny blue Goku.
I’ve seen it with Natsu from Fairy Tail, I’ve seen it with Super Saiyan Vegeta. I’ve seen it with both Kirito and Asuna from SAO. And the past few days on Facebook, I’ve been seeing it with everybody’s favorite former assassin, Himura Kenshin, the eponymous hero of Rurouni Kenshin.
I guess I understand the appeal. The quote is kinda badass, and the characters are pretty badass, so they go together, right?
Except the entire schtick of most of these characters is to always show mercy.*
Sure, Book One Korra isn’t about to let anybody off the hook, but a huge part of her journey in becoming a fully realized, mature Avatar is to learn unceasing compassion. Instead of killing Amon, she lets him live. Instead of killing Unalaq as soon as she realized his convoluted dark-spirit-worshiping plans, she devotes her time to trying to save him. And yes, members of the Red Lotus die, but Korra doesn’t kill them and she goes out of her way to capture Zaheer and bring him to justice. All along the way, she’s been learning and growing until she finally reaches the point with Kuvira where she sees her enemy for what she really is: an equally weak, insecure person in need of compassion and…that’s right…mercy.
Or how about Naruto? Uzumaki Naruto is the posterboy for showing mercy. How many times has Sasuke tried to kill him and Naruto’s just like, “Nope, I’m fine tho. Let’s be bros again, let’s grab some ramen boy.” Literally all the time. Naruto saves the world based entirely on the fact that he’s good at understanding others and winning them to his side over and over again. Did you watch the Pain Invasion? Have you heard of Gaara at all? (No shame if you’re not a Naruto fan who has never watched the Pain Invasion and has never heard of Gaara at all. Some people prefer Bleach.)
Seeing Kenshin on the shirt really tipped me over the edge, though. Kenshin? Show no mercy? Himura Kenshin, the sakabato-wielding wanderer who rescues orphans from drug lords as his chief hobby, showing no mercy? You could say it was his alter-ego, Battosai the Manslayer, depicted on the shirt. The ruthless killer who assassinated thousands for the ishin shishi during the tempestuous Bakamatsu, now he would show no mercy. He would also show no respect, nor protection. It’s really driving me nuts that no matter how much scrolling I do, I can’t find the same ad again to show you the exact picture I saw. (Plus, and this is just a nit-picky fan thing, but in the picture, his hair was clearly in a low ponytail, which is the primary visual cue that we’re dealing with Kenshin, not the killer inside.) Point is, for a character whose entire narrative arc is the search for redemption for his horrible past deeds and who goes about this by protecting the weak and saving his enemies, pairing him with “Show No Mercy” isn’t just wrong, it’s kind of an insult to the fan base.
I have to wonder what the first person who came up with this phrase was thinking. It sounds cool, yeah, but were they really thinking show no mercy? To what end? I live a faith-based life, and my faith is built around the concept of mercy. A merciful God gives grace to fallen people, merciful people forgive one another, love abounds. Mercy, forgiveness–without them, we wouldn’t be able to survive as people. In fact, if you’re living in the United States right now, you can clearly see that where our society is failing is that we have a complete lack of mercy for anyone, let alone respect or protection. Mercy is love, and I took it seriously when I was told I should love others as a child. That’s part of why I love anime so much, especially shonen stuff like Naruto and RuroKen, because those characters are more often than not all about mercy.
One of Kenshin’s more famous quotes reads: “The moment you find the courage to give up your life for someone would be the moment you understand love.” Kind of the opposite of “show no mercy,” don’t you think?
*I don’t really know the DB franchise at all, so I can’t comment on Goku or Vegeta, but Kirito straight-up killed three people, so whatevs. Forget everything I just said.