The Death of the Saboteur in Chaika: The Coffin Princess

“You want me to betray her for money? It’s true that saboteurs are hired to assist whoever they’re paid to. But once we’re hired, we don’t betray our employer. That’s the one thing we take pride in. Besides, fighting on the battlefield is what makes us saboteurs. It’s not just for the money.” -Acura Toru


As we move from anime titles from winter to spring, this is a good point to draw up the threads of thought gleaned from this year’s 12 Days posts. Noragami showed the necessity to adapt to change, a principle that applies to not only humans but perhaps, especially for gods, who are dependent in human acknowledgment and worship to exist. Kill la Kill gave us a glimpse of an apocalyptic world of social and power inequalities gone too far through the motif of clothing. Silver Spoon 2 preaches the bracing lesson not only being passionate but also being open-minded and having faith in others in horsemanship.

In Chaika: The Coffin Princess, Toru’s journey to help a young coffin-bearing princess collect her father’s remains brings all three thematic trials into one world, testing  his adaptability, his strength, and his faith in others.

Amnesiac loli princess collecting pieces of her dictatorial father’s corpse (left). Your average adolescent unemployed assassin (right).

Despite not being the titular character, Toru is introduced before Chaika is. And as far as first impressions go for your typical shonen protagonist, Toru comes off as a bit too disenchanted and world-weary, considering his age.

Toru: I’m currently jobless. I have no food, so I came to hunt some edible plants.

Chaika: Poor?

Toru: Yeah, that’s right.

Chaika: Understood. Jobless and poor!

Toru: You’re right, but that still pisses me off.

While younger viewers might roll their eyes dismissively or shake their heads in disbelief at Toru’s rather deadpan demeanor, we old folks know that unemployment (except for maybe the f(unemployment) kind) is a terrifying state to be in. Because in a way, your job plays a huge role in defining who you are. The longer you’ve been unemployed, the more likely you are to suffer from depression and other psychological consequences. It’s especially tough when you’re a saboteur–essentially assassins or soldiers for hire–and peacetime’s rendered your successful kill techniques virtually obsolete.

Back in the good days, when I beat up people, I got paid. Nowadays, I'd just get arrested if I did that.
Back in the good days, when I beat up people, I got paid. Nowadays, I’d just get arrested if I did that.

I’d be lying if I said [dying] didn’t scare me…but I have nothing better to do. In this world, I’m totally incompetent.

While Chaika never lingers very long on its cursory exploration of the psychological effects of unemployment, we see Toru’s apathy and disregard for his own life as two very clear symptoms of his depression. He might be scraping a living with his sister through foraging and other odd jobs, but he doesn’t consider his life–at the tender years of adolescence–as one that’s been well lived. On the contrary, to him living is boring.

Fortunately, Chaika dropping into his life while hauling enough political intrigue to overflow the coffin she bears, changes his life for the better. She hires them  to help her collect the remains of her father–the late overthrown emperor. Given an opportunity to go on an adventure and finally do something “interesting”, Toru, along with his sister, Akari, leap at the chance to join her.

You sure it's not something else that's bothering you, sonny boy?
You sure it’s not something else that’s bothering you, sonny boy?

As they go along their merry way, collecting the remains, we slowly realize that Toru’s boredom isn’t so much from a lack of battle as he previously claimed, but a lack of purpose. We see this very clearly in Toru’s conversation with the Red Chaika, who attempts to recruit Toru for her military campaign efforts to avenge Emperor Gaz’s death. Toru, much to her surprise, turns down her offer, despite giving up the chance to experience more combat. When pressed for his reasoning behind this decision, Toru explains how his hiring metric is not based on a saboteur’s penchant for battle but out of his own personal desire to be where he is most needed.

Red’s sexier but I’ve decided white’s more my color.

You’re strong. Both mentally and physically. But she’s very trusting, and totally unguarded, yet she’s also diligent and stubborn. I can’t leave her alone. If I’m going to be needed, I want to work for the one who needs me more.

While we can argue that Toru’s motivation for helping Chaika is partially derived from a personal satisfaction from being “useful”–a saboteur’s aesthetic to serve as a master’s tool–we’re giving Toru a little too much credit as a saboteur. There’s no doubt that Toru’s a great fighter–even without the Iron Blood transformation gimmick, he’s plenty competent in a fight and can go toe to toe even against magic users–but the point is that Toru, in his mentor’s words, is simply just not cut out to be a saboteur. Why? Because his devotion towards protecting Chaika is more than a contractual obligation–it is one made out of love. And true tools have no place for emotions.

Just one of the many hidden perks that comes with the job. :P
Just one of the many hidden perks that comes with the job. 😛

Toru: I keep telling you…a saboteur is his employer’s tool. A master risking her life for her tool is completely backwards.

Chaika: No! Wrong! Toru is not tool!

Toru: Okay, I get it.

In the end, while Toru keeps his saboteur skills handy, his skills are just that–no more than tools to help him survive. He does not fight to get paid, but instead to protect the ones he holds dearest to his heart. So, he would make a terrible saboteur. But this isn’t such a terrible employment prospect, given how being a saboteur in the first place wasn’t all that great to begin with. After all, we see that awful saboteurs do tend to make very good cavaliers. Which is totally okay. Knights tend to have happier endings than assassins anyway.



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