Demon slayer hug

Demon Slayer | The Important Coexistence of Empathy and Justice

I love Demon Slayer, and clearly, so does everyone else. There’s something about the human condition that this show just gets – the sad yet beautifully fleeting nature of life; the positive impact of warm, wonderful relationships that keep us going. And perhaps my favourite aspect of the show, Demon Slayer presents an incredibly powerful message – that humanity and empathy are not contradictory to the need to serve justice. That we can understand the circumstances in which wrongdoings may be conducted, but acknowledge the wrong act and mete out justice accordingly.

But before I get into Demon Slayer, there’s another anime I’d like to quickly mention in terms of empathy in justice. After all, every good shounen has a great villain. This is where I bring in Naruto – WAIT don’t click away, just hear me out!

Naruto presents a good-hearted but frankly naive look at justice where no matter how bad a crime a person commits, if they are willing to listen, they can repent, be influenced towards goodness and forgiven. The next step is reintegration into society – hooray! As wonderful as that sounds, this philosophy, unfortunately, falters in two major ways:

First, listening does not automatically erase hurt or trauma from the past that creates the ill feelings that drive people to in turn hurt others. Hurt people hurt others, both voluntarily and involuntarily. How do we then safeguard the future?

remember this

Second, and more significantly, some acts and behaviours cannot be forgiven on a societal level. This is precisely why the law exists – to deliver justice APPROPRIATE to the crime (as determined by our society). Sometimes, the appropriate punishment is the ultimate one: a life sentence in some countries and a death sentence in others. In both cases, essentially justice is arbitrated by taking away the life of the guilty party.

This is why although Orochimaru can somehow continue on a peaceful existence in Konoha, a similar situation in the real world would draw ire and protest. In many cases, the accused of serious crimes face scrutiny and public bashing even before they face a fair trial.

But as easy (and usually understandable) as it is to raise angry pitchforks, that isn’t quite right either. There is a reason that the right to a fair trial is fundamental to the rule of law and democracy. Circumstances, mental states and different persectives must be taken into account to ensure justice is served, again, appropriately.

Demon Slayer is able to understand this. Its look at justice mirrors our very real world. Yes, sometimes people are subject to incredibly poor circumstances. They could have been bullied, rejected or even abused. But, what happens when they turn into ‘monsters’ themselves? Do we turn around and say “hey, all you need is a little bit of acceptance”?

For the very serious crimes Demon Slayer presents, no, we don’t. The justice system hears the accused out; gives them a chance to defend themselves. Innocent until proven guilty. But when guilty, punishment must be delivered.

Demon Slayer also understands that the fact that these punishments are carried out does not contradict our capability for compassion. We can recognise and acknowledge the sad series of events that can drive people to crime. In fact, it’s incredibly important that we do. We, as a society, can try to learn from them and provide better support to those suffering to prevent similar circumstances.

We have to understand that we are fortunate. It’s easy to judge others who do wrong, but what would we do if we were dealt a bad hand at life? Over and over? Would it really be so easy to be a good person? Are we really as incorruptible as we think we are? There is a very worthwhile reason why we should hear out people’s terrible circumstances – appropriate action must be taken policies must be improved to ensure such tragedies don’t happen again.

A part of this also means removing the guilty party from society to prevent further harm – this is the role Tanjirou and his friends take. Tanjirou understands and empathises with the tragedies he faces, but never lets the demons off the hook. Tanjirou even explicitly states that they cannot be forgiven, as sad as that makes him. Those are the consequences.

This exibits a very mature understanding of how our society works. Sometimes, all cannot be forgiven. And even so, justice must coexist with empathy – so that we, as a whole, can ensure a better future.

4 thoughts on “Demon Slayer | The Important Coexistence of Empathy and Justice

  1. “that humanity and empathy are not contradictory to the need to serve justice.”

    I wish I could put this on a billboard. I’ve never been able to put that sentiment into words. I appreciate that.

    Liked by 1 person

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