Cholera Is Bad

Let's talk about Ninja Scroll and the Rurouni Kenshin OAVs!

So, in I, there's this plot point where the Eight Devils of Kimone want to look a secret gold mine the government doesn't know about (and therefore does not tax). They do this by poisoning the well of the village next to ehg old mine, and then using supernatural power to animate one of the corpses of the dead villagers, having her walk to the next village, and have her say, in essence, "Ah! An epidemic! I am slain!" and then fall over dead. Everyone freaks out and the local magistrate quarantines the village because holy shit he does not want a plague sweeping through his domain.

The way she's drawn in that scene, though, she actually looks sick. She doesn't look like a zombie; she looks like someone who's starving and filthy because her body is shutting down. She looks genuinely ill enough that the audience buys the lie. I totally bought that she was dying of some sort of awful genuine illness when I watched Ninja Scroll for the first time.

Fantasy illnesses never look as awful as that; they do not grab the primal fear of helplessness before human illness and frailty the way real illnesses do. WotC publishes a D&D adventure about a plague and it's about a village that's been infected with some supernatural sickness that causes them to burst into snakes and then it's all an excuse to go into a dungeon and kill the devil who's casting the spell that summons the illness. It feels like an excuse to have a typical adventure; it never feels genuinely menacing.

In the opening of the Rurouni Kenshin prequel OAVs, Trust and Betrayal, you first meet this badass swordsman guy and he comes across some bandits killing a caravan. Swordsman Badass arrives in time to kill the bandits before they kill the very last member of the caravan, a little kid, and he goes "Well, I'm sorry I didn't arrive earlier, but at least the dudes who killed your parents are dead." And the kid goes "Those weren't my parents. Those were slavers. My uncle sold me to them after my parents died of cholera."

This makes it immediately clear why Swordsman Badass has dedicated himself to perfecting his swordsmanship and living in a little cabin on a mountain and staying the fuck away from the world, because in the face of problems like "Due to widespread plague and poverty, people sell their relatives into slavery," what the hell good can you do just by being awesome at murdering people? He takes the kid in and teaches him to be a badass swordsman and then the kid wants to leave and accomplish some good in the world and Swordsman Badass is like "You're an idiot. You're just going to get used by assholes." They have angry words; kid wanders off and stars in a manga and an anime.

I saw both of those things before I read Exalted for the first time. Cholera in the corebook, and not fantasy snake-transmogrification disease, is the reason I am an Exalted fan, and Rurouni Kenshin and Ninja Scroll are why.

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