Hoozuki no Reitetsu – The Mundane Lives of Bureaucrats
January 10, 2014 Leave a comment
One would think that being a denizen of hell could be quite entertaining for those inclined towards sadism, perhaps masochism, and a love of fine barbeques. Not so for Hoozuki, aide to the Great King Yama, his life is full of endless paperwork and the ever-present problem of being understaffed and over-crowded. Hell is simply overflowing with spirits either coming for a short break, or taking their time and enjoying the various tortures available, enough for a true connoisseur. Hoozuki is more a bureaucrat stuck in middle management than a devil, someone who has to make sure the wheels of hell turn efficiently and everything works properly.
What is so fascinating about Hoozuki no Reitetsu is how well it presents hell as merely a series of districts to be watched over with proper administration and the correct understanding of paperwork. With seven divisions and 272 subdivisions we are left with the impression that while terrible tortures happen throughout, the whole thing would collapse without a clever mind at work, making sure the right sort of people are hired to ease a particular departments short fall in staff and production. Hell is basically a government department, with the Great King Yama as more of a harassed manger with too much work than a deity with the power to destroy all who oppose him. This is particularly important because in Buddhist mythology, Yama is a dharmapala (wrathful god) said to judge the dead and preside over Narakas (‘hells’, or ‘purgatories’ and the cycle of birth. Hoozuki would be the judge who accompanies Yama (or in this case Enma as he is known in Japan) who carries a brush and book listing every soul and the allotted death date for every life.
What Hoozuki no Reitetsu does so brilliantly is turn this aspect of the mythology surrounding these characters into the workings of a government institution, with Yama as a harassed manager and Hoozuki as the conscientious and above all efficient bureaucrat. His dismissal of Shangri-la for example suggests that far from paradise, it is merely another department that doesn’t want to deal with its own problems and constantly tries to push them onto someone else. Shangri-la is another simply more paperwork for Hoozuki, with other issues down the line, and probably an awful lot of complaining and insisting that he deal with their problems. Indeed, as we follow Hoozuki you get the impression that he gets more annoyed when characters like Momotaro – the character from an Edo period story – give him more work to do when he is already trying to deal with a staff short fall, and problems with various divisions budgets. He even uses the encounter to solve the staff short fall, although appears to be annoyed that an iron maiden was installed without first consulting him about the cost and whether their budget can allow it.
Everything about hell in Hoozuki no Reitetsu gives the impression of the government department, with a cafeteria, offices, and other workings of daily lives. What makes Hoozuki a fascinating character however is how distant, and curiously odd he seems. You couldn’t imagine him truly enjoying himself, and when he talks about his love for small cute animals, his interest in travelling, and even the sort of women he likes it all just seems weird. There is a distance to his character that makes the idea of him having hobbies, and even enjoying himself seem weird. Even his hobby, which seems to be growing goldfish plants, has been run so efficiently that he has now become a contest judge rather than participate, and presumably win it again. He is not an interesting person, and certainly not one you could imagine going out for a meal or a drink with, and certainly not one you could discuss your hobbies or interests with. But that is what Hoozuki no Reitetsu is, a series about the bureaucrats’ who try to run hell, trying to make sure that sinners are dealt with as efficiently as possible, while also maintaining a proper budget and dealing with all the little issues that a large government department, or company has such as funding, staffing, and when to take your holiday. Whether the series lives or dies largely depends on how successfully it is able to make this sort of story work, and how darkly comic it is.