The Tragedy of Justin Law

(Spoilers for the Soul Eater anime and manga abound in this one folks. Turn away if you want to be surprised.)

Whenever I think about Justin Law, my heart is filled with feelings of happiness, but at the same time sadness. The blonde guillotine from Western Europe was always a joy whenever he was on screen. He made a strong first impression when I first watched the anime, but then I read the manga and my love for him increased to the point where he became my favorite character. I never expected him to become the one character of Soul Eater that I love above all, yet he managed to do that with his tragic character. With this post, I’m going to explain why, as I try to show how Justin’s character changed for the best by going down the worst path. Without further ado, let’s dive right in.

When Justin first appeared after the release of the Kishin Ashura, he was what you would expect from a side character from Atsushi Okubo. He was a strange one, what with him constantly preaching about Lord Death, his hard time communicating, and the constant headphones inside of his ears. It was enough to make Justin stand out from the more emotional Marie Mjolnir and the calculating Azusa Yumi. He continued to set himself apart when he first fought Giriko, as even though he was a weapon, he didn’t need a meister, and he managed to hold his own against Giriko just fine without one. At first, these all seemed like a bunch of cool things to make him seem like a badass, and in a way, he was.

Despite his constant preaching, he could always maintain his focus when he was engaged in combat. He would always be devoted to Lord Death, and it was this devotion that made him a valuable ally. However, those quirks of his that I mentioned above eventually become much more relevant to his character as the story of the manga went on. It is after the mission to retrieve BREW that his character takes a shift.

During the BREW arc, the last we see of Justin is him fighting Giriko for a second time, and after that, he just disappeared. Chapters later, while Joe Buttataki is investigating the DWMA, as there is a suspected traitor among them, he is killed in an alleyway and the blame is put on Stein. If you were going in blind, you would probably be wondering what is going on, and considering that Stein was fighting a battle with the madness before all this happened, you might actually get a nagging feeling that he might’ve actually killed Joe. At this point, Justin is just a side character and nothing more, and Okubo uses that fact to his advantage in order to build mystery. However, once the raid on Baba Yaga’s Castle is over with, we are greeted with a twist that I don’t think unspoiled readers would’ve seen coming. Justin is back, and we can already tell that he is not the same character we initially thought he was.

We immediately see that the loner Death Scythe has changed based on this single page. We see the Clown behind him, there are subtle changes in his design like the sleeves of his outfit and his necklace being more symbolic of the Kishin than Lord Death, and the fact that he is actually offering Giriko the chance to join his side. The old Justin that worshipped Lord Death is gone, now replaced with this new Justin that instead worships the DWMA’s worst enemy. Now we know the real culprit responsible for Joe’s death.

Looking back at the fight that he has with Stein and Marie when he is eventually figured out, I begin to think about what that fight meant metaphorically knowing what I know about him now. While on a technical level it makes sense for Stein and Marie to be able to kick Justin around like he a ragdoll, I have to wonder if it was intentional that Okubo made it so Justin would lose a one on two fight to add to his character. Remember this, because we are going to get back to it later on.

For right now, I want to focus on how Justin’s character acts after his transformation. He is cynical, more sadistic, and he also appears to have a more violent fighting style. We are shown this when he fights Medusa, but it is not until Tezca Tlipoca enters the fight where we get an interesting scene that reveals quite a bit about Justin’s character and is vital to understanding who he is and why he changed.

During the fight, Tezca is constantly trying his best to get through to Justin. He reminds Justin of how they are best friends and of all the good times that they had together. We even see these memories in flashback panels. However, how does Justin react to all this? He doesn’t, because he can’t read Tezca’s lips with that bear mask on, but more importantly, he can’t hear Tezca because he always has his headphones turned on full blast all the time. With that, we can figure that Justin never felt that Tezca was his friend like Tezca does Justin. When you think about it and let it all sink in, all those good times that Tezca had with Justin were nothing to the blonde because he didn’t let them be, you start to see the guillotine in a new, more tragic light.

We can infer that Justin must’ve had a life where he was isolated from everybody else. That he didn’t have people to rely on, which would explain his devotion to Lord Death when he was first introduced and his devotion to the Kishin later on. He sees these entities, these deities, as his only form of guidance in the world, and we can safely assume that Justin has some trust issues, which wouldn’t really surprise me.

From there, Justin’s condition never seems to fully let up. I say that because he does get to work with other people like Noah’s group and the Clown Army, but he never really goes to the point where they become friends with each other. The final nail in the coffin comes when Tezca tracks him down again. Their final fight is incredibly tense as throughout it, Tezca never stops trying to get through to Justin, and you are practically begging that Justin will see the light, but ultimately, he doesn’t and ends up killing Tezca without losing his faith in the Kishin. Justin isn’t willing to change, and with that, he is truly gone.

This is where I want to talk about his first fight with Stein and Marie. If you have been paying attention so far, you can probably guess where I’m going with this, but whether it was intentional or not, I like to believe that that fight was symbolic of how Justin acts when put up against cooperation between people. His isolation is his defining quality, and the fight itself could be seen as foreshadowing for what fate awaited him, as it is through the combined efforts of the weapon and meister that he meets his downfall. He may have been a force to be reckoned with against a single opponent, but against combined efforts, he didn’t stand a chance, both on a technical and thematic level.

I want to take a brief moment to bring up how the anime handled Justin’s character. On a surface level, he never joins the Kishin and he is still alive. So Justin ends up getting a happy ending right? Well, I used to think that too, but considering the fact that he still worships Lord Death, I can only assume that he still has the same trust issues as he was shown to have in the manga, and he is still a lone wolf. Either way, Justin doesn’t really seem to get much of a happy ending with either iteration of the story. So which one do you prefer? The version where he ends up joining the antagonists and is ultimately killed, or the version that, while alive and well, still chooses to isolate himself and has no other form of guidance in the world other than Lord Death? It’s a no win situation.

I talked about this a little in my previous Soul Eater post, but this is one of the main reasons that I want the anime to continue from where it left off. I feel it presents new possibilities, not just for a new story, but for Justin as well. Try to imagine Justin chatting it up with Tezca, cracking jokes with Spirit, trying to make conversation with Azusa, conversing with people like Stein, Marie, Sid, and Nygus, all with no headphones in his ears and a smile on his face. If that were to happen, that would be a dream come true, and that is what I feel would be a true happy ending for this fantastic character.

Thank you all for reading.

3 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Justin Law

  1. i only browsed the manga so when i saw he was evil i was like NOOOOO he’s one of my fav characters T_T i can’t really say much on which would be better but i like to think that the anime gave him a happier ending, i mean, maybe things work out and we just never see it. potentially he can also just have gone bad in another event but who knows. need to read the manga!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is just overall perfectly well written. I just finished reading the manga myself and with Justin being my favorite character as well, my heart felt like it stopped beating when I saw him die.

    When it was revealed that he was a traitor, I was upset but I wasn’t worried at first. In the manga, many characters get consumed by madness. But they get saved. Kim and Jacqueline get brainwashed by arachnophobia and Stein, Soul, and Crona become consumed by madness as well. When it came to those characters, everyone’s first response was “Oh no! They’re brainwashed! The madness has consumed them! We’ve got to save them and talk some sense into them!” Even with Ox and Maka refusing to Kill Crona and Kim because they were their friends and they loved them.

    But when it came to Justin, everyone automatically treated him like a traitor who should die. Stein even killed him off so easily and Tezca was the only person who tried to talk sense into Justin. He didn’t have a huge group of friends like Crona did to remind him that he was loved. Justin was obviously being manipulated by the clown yet they treated him like he had been a traitor from the very start and did nothing to try to help him. They were just like “yeah Justin betrayed us. 😦 He’s evil now. Oh well.”

    And what kills me the most is that Justin was under control of the Kishin’s madness until the very end. Even his final words before death just screamed out pure madness. I was hoping that if he was going to be killed off that right before he died, he would come to his senses while being confused, scared, and lost with the situation going on. That would’ve been a real tearjerker.

    All in all, even though anime Justin rides off into the sunset all alone. He is still alive. And I’ll take what I can get. 😔 Even if it may not be the happiest ending for him, it’s just nice to know that he’s at least still alive and well in the anime universe.

    Liked by 1 person

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