There is no fact of life harder to face, or conceptualise, than its ending. Since I lost my mother last year, I’ve been struggling for ways to guard against the fact she will never be a phone call away, that strong, vital voice of reassurance. There’s the regret that I should have treasured her more when she was here, made more time to be with her before she was taken away. But even still, I can only find gratitude for the slideshow of our shared moments, flickering warm inside this body she created. I appreciate her now at a distance. It’s a feeling of disconnect that’s hard to get used to, but I have the perfect mirror for how I feel in the flowing snapshots of anime.
Princess Mononoke, the lightning flash that first stunned me with the fierce grace that anime could be capable of, is an even more painful tale of mending, belonging, learning to coexist with nature’s cruelty rather than fighting against it. Motherless, fatherless, the demi-goddess of beasts San finds solace with wolves who doubtless love her, but cannot be a surrogate for the human bonds she lost. There was too much grief in humanity’s destruction of her beloved nature for her to stay, she thought. But if her hurts and those of the earth were to heal, she must heed the call to stand and face them.
Her world as she knows it collapses to enable new life. She watches and mourns for the loss of her mother Earth, no longer in denial of her human soul and the mortality of all things. The truth remains, mankind was where she began and where she will always be needed. It was simply too much before, to claim that frailty and take action; easier to claim to be inhuman and bury the grief.
Feelings of inhumanity have become oddly apt in reaching the core of the catharsis I need. Black Butler’s progeny of power, the earl Ciel Phantomhive, has been followed by death’s shadow since he was left orphaned, his parents burned to ashes along with the family home in an act of malice. The manor was rebuilt, and so Ciel defied death to revive his father’s toymaking empire, and take on the mantle of Queen Victoria’s guard against supernatural forces.
Taking what he feels to be his failing with him in every step, he walks numbed even when loss strikes his family once more. The funeral for his aunt Madam Red, his mother’s sister, is heightened from a drab recitation to a scandalous splendour with Ciel’s late arrival. He lays her scarlet dress over her still, pale form, the white gown chosen for her unbecoming to the “passionate red” with which she left her mark on the world.
I know that vivid colour well, and the bruise it leaves in absence. Ciel has lost his last close tie to his mother’s love, but he meets it with an aura of pride. His lack of tears, or any outward display of mourning is the same that’s brought me some guilt since my mother’s death. At her funeral, I remembered her with a smile. I don’t often cry for her. I worry that I am some demon who didn’t love her enough. But I see and feel Ciel’s hidden grief as my own.