Spirit Circle: A Comfortable Boredom

“It’s hard for me to hate you,” Touko admits in Spirit Circle’s fifth volume. This isn’t a happy revelation. It’s spoken with bitterness, more of an accusation than an apology. And it’s easy to see why: hating Fuuta makes everything easier for Touko.

With Fuuta serving as the target of her rage, all of the injustices that have befallen Touko make a certain kind of sense. In our chaotic and frequently tragic world, it can be comforting to believe all of your problems are a result of some specific antagonist, some malevolent force that is specifically denying you the happiness you deserve. The idea of getting revenge for a grudge inherently implies some faith or hope in the order of things. When you were wronged, that was a deviation from how things are “supposed” to go, and you must “set things right” by punishing the person who caused this deviation. We cling to villains because the truth is much scarier – that life is simply chaotic without purpose, and bad things often happen to good people.

“Revenge” also implies a sense of intentionality on the part of your oppressor, the idea that they were genuinely trying to deny your happiness. But as the course of Fuuta and Touko’s journeys has demonstrated, our own culpability in the trajectory of our lives is somewhat limited. Fuuta never really chose to inflict violence on Touko – they just came into conflict over the course of their individual lives, as people often do. The sleeping tower illustrated this point more sharply than ever, with both Fuuta and Touko’s avatars possessing sympathetic, equally valid reasons to either revere or despise the scientific community. In the face of all these lives, how can Touko honestly claim that it is Fuuta who is antagonizing her, rather than him simply reflecting the inherent friction of contrasting human experience?

Perhaps this high-minded refutation of revenge might strike Touko as condescending, or simply callous to the substance of her feelings. In that case, a more pragmatic answer might be appropriate: living in the past, and seeking only to redress grievances, will bring you nothing but suffering. History has no “correct order” that revenge might return us to; in fact, it is only through letting go of our grievances that we can continue onward. Clinging to the past prevents us from embracing the rewards of the future: eventually, we end up like the world of the Sleeping Tower, a stagnant wasteland with no hope of renewal.

For our own sake, we must be willing to let go. Not necessarily through forgetting the past, but through letting it rest, and moving on to new experiences. Like the workers who retired after reaching their sleeping relatives, we must all be willing to step forward from grief and resentment, and embrace new experiences. If Fuuta and Touko have learned nothing else from their experiences, they must surely have realized that life lasts a pretty long time. And as the extended course of their lives reveal, one bright or painful memory is just an individual bump in a road filled with curves and potholes, a path that will wind in directions you never expected. In the heat of his assault on the witch, Vann could never have expected his life would eventually revolve around domesticity and fatherhood. While lamenting the failure of his great cat statue, Flors would never guess that his final years would be spent reflecting on his yet-unmet wife.

Of course, it is much easier to maintain a grudge against a person you do not understand – and it is much easier to live in the past when you cannot imagine a future. Fuuta and Touko have at this point lost the privilege of ignorance; they know each other too well to hate each other, and they have lived through too many lives to assume any one event is their defining moment. Touko may have lost the gratifying certainty of her hatred, but it has been replaced by a genuine appreciation for Fuuta’s better nature. And with the two of them consoling each other, they’re able to keep moving even in view of the ultimate terror: the actual end of history, and the final severing of the great wheel.

And then there’s Fortuna.

Fortuna has been framed as a figure of mystery and menace all throughout Spirit Circle, the version of Fuuta so horrible that Touko still cannot forgive him. And as we at last touch down in Fortuna’s world, it does indeed seem like he represents a total denial of Spirit Circle’s fundamental lessons. Obsessed with the past, disinterested in the future, and utterly unconcerned with the lives of others, Fortuna is a threat not just to his own world, but to the continued existence of life as a whole.

Fortuna makes his perspective known quite early in his arc, when he bluntly declares that “I am a genius, everyone else is stupid.” Fortuna’s genius seems to represent something close to the opposite of Fuuta’s wisdom. He’s undeniably intelligent, yet his mind is closed off from others, secure in its perspective and uninterested in the views of others. A mind like Fortuna’s could never appreciate the complexity of perspective that Fuuta has internalized, or recognize the validity of a thought provoked by a differing journey through the trials of living.

Or perhaps Fortuna is not quite the opposite, but rather the inverse of Fuuta’s perspective. Fuuta has gained such a broad appreciation for the great wheel, as well as the fallibility of human emotions in the face of its turns, that he can’t even blame Touko for wanting to kill him. He has reached a point of perhaps too much serene peace with the universe, where he no longer feels anything but gratitude for the world as it is. Casually referring to himself as “just a snot-nosed brat,” he has fully internalized the humility of a many-lived existence.

In contrast, Fortuna has a keen scientific understanding of how soul energy works, but absolutely no respect for its significance. He does not value the souls or lived experiences of others – he quantifies them, and sets them to work for his own designs. Fortuna is all of the knowledge with none of the consideration, kindness, or restraint – thus his master quickly banishes him, when she realizes how dangerous a mind like his could become. Anyone who harnesses the great wheel can do great and powerful things; for such a person to be as inward-focused as Fortuna would spell disaster.

As in many of these cycles, it takes a moment of pure grief to break Fortuna out of his shell. Spirit Circle’s portrayal of his master’s death is astonishing, a great wave of darkness that swallows everything around Fortuna, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Even his genius cannot help him here; for all his bluster, he still treasured the few connections he had made, and is left rudderless by his master’s death. In that dark place, he begs for the solace that Touko once enjoyed. “Suppose somebody had killed Master. If I had something to focus my hatred on… it would have saved me.”

Instead, Fortuna is saved in the way we all are: by the persistent unspooling of time, as old pains dull and new joys emerge. Redemption does not come because some tragedy of the past was “set right,” and everything went back into its proper order. The past cannot be changed, and tragedy cannot be avoided – but if you keep living, something good might happen. We cannot guarantee the future will be good, but we can guarantee the future will be different, if we just keep taking one step after another. Even a man like Fortuna might be able to change, given enough time and pressure. The sea wears down all rocks eventually.

Perhaps a person like Fortuna just needs someone to believe in them. Though Fortuna himself can see no hope in his future, his apprentice East sees otherwise. While Fortuna would be content to languish in his grief, East adopts a young girl into their home, and assures Fortuna that he too would have saved this child. Through East’s belief, Fortuna invests in this child’s future, and gives Koko her name. And after a great deal of time has passed, Fortuna one day admits that his wounds have healed. It’s not revenge, revelation, or really any victory at all – he just spent enough time living, and looking forward the best he could.

For a time, Fortuna enjoys an enviable daily life, something he refers to as a “comfortable boredom.” While we tend to crave adventure early in life, as we grow older, we learn to appreciate the value of boredom. Why should we be unhappy about a moment of peace? Why, in this world so laden with conflict and tragedy, should we lament a day spent with no obligations, in the company of people we love? These moments ought to be treasured; you never know how many you’ll get, or who you’ll be able to share them with.

Unfortunately, Fortuna’s salvation is also the seed of his downfall. Through the support of East, Fortuna at last experiences the joy of familial love, and a sense of contentment in his daily life. But when East falls victim to the same disease that claimed his master, Fortuna refuses to accept it.

With his only trusted companion incapacitated, Fortuna trusts in the one thing he’s always believed in: his own genius. His perspective returns to that of his childhood insecurities, where the isolation prompted by his intelligence led him to dehumanize others, only seeing his master as “human.” As Touko and Fuuta have repeatedly demonstrated, it takes some amount of time with others to recognize their humanity. Rather than going out among the people, Fortuna sticks to his research, eventually seeing both the beauty of the spirit realm and the breadth of human experience as sterile numbers on a spreadsheet.

Despite the attempts of both his Master Rei and even Spacifica, Fortuna’s genius bears fruit, and he creates the Spirit Circle. A device for storing and repurposing spirit energy, he immediately uses it for great evil, destroying cities and claiming thousands of lives in order to preserve a fraction of East’s consciousness. Learning the world is one massive spiritual consciousness might have prompted an emotional revelation, a moment of thanks for the interconnected beauty of existence. Instead, in Fortuna’s mind, it simply means that all spirit energy sources are interchangeably exploitable, all of them batteries to fuel his grand design.

Horrified by his inhumane actions, Koko ultimately demands to know what he thinks a life even is. In answer, he states “an energy source for biological activity” – a scientific tool, nothing more. By mastering the science behind the transference of soul energy, Fortuna has acquired the terrible inverse of Fuuta’s wisdom. He has abstracted himself from humanity so completely that he sees souls purely as power sources, with no appreciation for their human value. When Touko came to know Fuuta, she could no longer hate him. By isolating himself from others, Fortuna has acquired something even more threatening than hatred: complete indifference to humanity.

Abandoned by his companions and imprisoned by his research, Fortuna becomes stuck in a perpetual present. Unwilling to accept loss and unable to look forward, he sinks into the stasis embodied by all of Spirit Circle’s failures, only noticing that years have passed once Toko returns to destroy him. Obsessed as he is, and having abandoned the relations that might have made his time meaningful, Fortuna can no longer appreciate the simple wonder of a lazy day, and lets the bounty of the wheel slip through his fingers. Surrounded by old bones and lost in himself, he acquires a title that suits both his monstrousness and his tragedy, his power and his weakness: Fortuna, King of the Dead.

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