So, JJ’s about to get initiated into Dragon Head. He’s had to remember particular answers to ceremonial questions, and he’s gotta go into the hall to be inducted with a whole heap of other intakes. It all reminds me of a very twisted group job interview, combined with something vaguely cultish.
JJ secretly thinks to himself about how he’s doing it all as an act, and is a tad creeped out by the fact that Ugajin, performing the blood ceremony, only touches his lips with the ceremonial blood… even though he appears to strongly dislike touching other people, wiping his hands afterwards.
JJ approaches Ugajin after the ceremony, desperate to get some information about Azusa’s whereabouts or wellbeing. Ugajin tells him “Come alone, at midnight.”
Because that’s totally not some creepy-arsed shit. Especially when he’s whispering in JJ’s ear that it’s a very private welcoming party.
I think everyone can see what’s coming here, with the unholy trinity of a desperate person, an established kichiku megane, and a request like that? No. If not, I’m just gonna say, “Major fucking trigger warnings,” people.
Midnight falls, and JJ has arrived at Ugajin’s nice apartment building, in a better part of town, noticing that everything is meticulously tidy, and starts wondering if Ugajin is a germaphobe. Certainly seems like it. with the wiping of his hands, and wearing those white gloves all the time.
Ugajin initially pours JJ a drink and congratulates him on making it into Dragon Head, pointing out that he’s an exception to most of the people who signed up for their own reasons of greed. JJ had to be acquired. He demands that JJ hand over his gun, pointing his own at JJ when JJ plays dumb. Again, he is kind of terrifying, which only makes you wonder how damned scary Liu Jien is going to be when he finally turns up.
Ugajin produces a large photograph album with what appears to be a private school insignia on the cover, and encourages JJ to flip through until a particular point, where he is staring at photos of… himself… as a student. Of course JJ doesn’t remember this period, nor that Ugajin attended the same school as him– so in a way, it’s more of a complete headfuck than anything else.
That said, Ugajin does seem disheartened by what’s happened to the city they both grew up in. And curiously… he expresses a twinge of resentment towards Dragon Head.
Ugajin continues his conversation with JJ, the two of them trade back-and-forth thinly-veiled barbs, and it becomes apparent that both of them are trapped by Dragon Head. Curiously, though, Ugajin is happy to discuss JJ’s past matter-of-factly, and he’s done his research… as though he’s trying to push a button somewhere in JJ. JJ’s defenses drop, and he consumes the whiskey Ugajin poured for him, and to be honest, the whole thing turns out to be a lot less creepy than I assumed it would be.
JJ asks about getting down to business, assuming that the business will be in the form of a hit. But, er, Ugajin has a whole other interpretation of “getting down to business.” Yeah… right after he was actually coming across as interested in JJ as a human being, and actually not very creepy at all.
…and that’s when the fact that JJ’s whiskey was drugged becomes disturbingly apparent.
This is the point where it becomes apparent that any notion that Ugajin was somehow not creepy was a really silly one, and that nope, the dude’s a fully certified sadist who’s quite deliberately enjoying playing with JJ’s injuries while he’s handcuffed and restrained. The dude’s like fanon Kristoph Gavin and Virus (from DRAMAtical Murder)‘s and Nakajima (from Gakuen Heaven)’s unholy bastard love child, only with an extra added dose of completely terrifying, especially when you consider that we’re talking about JJ here, who is damned smart and resilient.
Seriously, can we imagine him doing this to the stereotypical sweet innocent yaoi protagonist who isn’t basically the ruthless cold-hearted survivor that JJ is? He would utterly destroy someone like that.
Anyway, he’s not finished: he undresses JJ, to play with his injuries some more and examine his tattoo, all the while taunting him about his relationship with Azusa, talking about how Azusa had incredible loyalty towards him, which only makes you wonder what the hell has happened to Azusa out there.
And then he films himself raping JJ, admitting he’d slipped an aphrodisiac into the whiskey, so even though JJ is horrified at what is happening, his body is reacting in a way that is betraying his sentiments. Ugajin tells JJ that he’ll be sharing the tape around as a form of black mail when he gets bored of him, too, so I guess he’s got that to look forward to.
Whoops. There I had been, thinking the guy wasn’t actually that creepy and that the worst of it was dredging up some bad memories. He then shows JJ some video of exactly the same thing happening to Wong, just in case JJ thought he was bluffing… which just makes Wong’s “loyalty” to Dragon Head– since Wong didn’t seem to have been roped in by greed or a fear of not surviving out there, and since Wong seems to have genuine respect for Ugajin– even more complicated and weird.
After a week of using JJ as his personal sex slave, Ugajin’s pretty certain that he’s broken his spirit, and releases him back to life on the frontline, back to doing mobster things. JJ grittily thinks to himself that nope, this shit hasn’t broken him, and that he’s got to hang in there so he can save Azusa and get the fuck out of Dragon Head.
JJ is rather blase about his mobster activities. He has no real interest in the success of Dragon Head or really supporting their activities, just in not being caught in the crossfire somewhere. Wong seems to notice that, and chastises him, pointing out that his job is to be more than just a sole survivor, but really, JJ has no fucks to give when it comes to getting shit done for Dragon Head; he’s always seen himself as an outsider to the group anyway, and he secretly kind of wants to see them go under: he’s just not prepared to sabotage anything himself.
I think this is something we can all relate to on some level: how many of us have worked shitty jobs where we’re treated like crap and where, really, any benefits that come to the company don’t actually trickle down to us, and where you’re sort of standing to the side thinking that if something bad happened to the firm, as long as it didn’t get you fired or worse, it really doesn’t matter and might actually make things a little bit more interesting? JJ basically has the position of being an emotionally uninvested checkout operator in a crappy, disorganised retail job where everyone is treated as disposable and the only reason everyone’s there is they need to make a living.
And just like in the real world, trickle-down economics doesn’t work in Dragon Head, either. JJ might be busy standing over guys for money and extorting local businesses, but pretty much everything is utter shit for everyone.
Wong, on one occasion, while they’re out mobstering, briefly addresses their shared situation with Ugajin, though JJ thinks it’d be better for everyone if they don’t really discuss it. So there’s a funny sort of connection there, like they’re both acknowledging what’s happened, and that they have it in common, but they’re just not going to talk about it. It makes me really love Wong as a character, as well as wonder about him a whole lot more.
But before we can think about that too much, Wong takes JJ off to Uozumi, for what they presume is bodyguard work in protecting the Dragon Head sex workers.
JJ asks Wong about Liu Jien, and if he really engages much with them; Wong says he doesn’t, and that Ugajin pretty much runs the show, which is kind of disturbing considering we know just how unbalanced Ugajin is. JJ asks a little about the hotel where Azusa is being held, and Wong sharply advises him not to ask questions, explaining that he doesn’t have enough clout to know shit like this. Wong’s another one of the typical Omerta dudes: survived trauma, damaged, and hardened, but still a decent guy at the and of the day.
We then meet Uozumi: a grumpy dude who runs the restaurants and bordellos that Dragon Head controls. He briefly suggests that JJ go into pimping, to which JJ is mildly unimpressed, and then explains there are some bad dudes making life a bit difficult around his businesses.
Sure enough, bad guys appear, JJ deals with them. But he messes up towards the end, telling the onlookers that the cops are on their way, to which Uozumi is pissed because it’s going to mean a reduction in business. He casually mentions that he thinks JJ’s been ‘one on one meeting’ with Ugajin, which is a bit disturbing, and drops the hint that perhaps he has an understanding of the situation all too well himself. …but he mentions that without being noticed by Ugajin, there’s no hope in moving up in Dragon Head… which at least explains why all the higher ups in Dragon Head are very attractive.
JJ tentatively asks Uozumi about the “contract hotel,” and Uozumi plays dumb, so JJ doesn’t push it.
He returns back to the hideout, reflecting on his time there previously with Azusa and basically the mess his life’s become. He’s been isolated from everyone he cares about, and Dragon Head is consuming him. He’s gotten to thinking about how Ugajin has basically engineered everything so he’s in the man’s debt and at his mercy, when the phone rings… Guess who?
Ugajin wants JJ to come over to discuss the job he briefly mentioned when JJ first showed up at his apartment, which JJ has understandably forgotten about given everything else that’s happened to him since then. While it looks like an obvious trap, there’s not a great deal else he can do, and yet he doesn’t want to go over there (more than understandable given what happened last time he did that).
Turns out JJ didn’t need to head out: Ugajin has already turned up on his doorstep.
I’ve seen some discussion around how Ugajin is like, a total yandere character, willing to basically go batshit crazy and take out anyone else who gets in the way of his object of affection, just as I’ve seen him called a total tsundere, the cold-on-the-surface-cute-beneath-that type.
I can’t see him as either. At the moment, JJ is not the object of his affection: he’s interesting to Ugajin because of his past and his skills and his relatively unusual status, and possibly because of their shared past. Ugajin has referred to him as attractive and raped him– neither of these things suggest any kind of affection, particularly given that Ugajin has done the same thing to Wong and others (including, presumably, Uozumi). At the moment, all I’m getting from Ugajin is that he sees JJ as an implement: something that can assist him and is valuable to him because of his skill– not because he has any particular concern about him or attraction to him. He’s just useful to Ugajin in his rise to power or as some amusement, plus there’s the novelty status: he’s not just any old gangster, he’s Death Scythe, and maybe there’s a bit of an ego-stroke in it for him to be able to take down and control the guy? Ugajin might have kept JJ at his apartment for a week for amusement, but he isn’t trying to control or protect him: he has no problem with JJ being at risk doing regular mobster activities, or having the ability to pretty much do whatever he feels like doing.
Basically, the emotional engagement and concern Ugajin shows towards JJ, especially right now, makes him, I dunno, no kind of “dere.” But that’s precisely why I see this relationship as so interesting, because it develops against Ugajin seeing JJ as just another device for his use.
Ugajin has done his research, though, and ties JJ to a bunch of instances where JJ’s work as an assassin lead to political movements around the neighbourhood, which have shaped and changed the region. And then, there’s the mention of the man who was JJ’s target those five years ago: Wanibuchi. With Ugajin’s rage at what his childhood neighbourhood has become because of the growing influence of criminal gangs, does he blame JJ, in part for this? He’s certainly done his research on JJ, and it’s clear why he wants him as staff: the guy’s a good hitman, right?
But you get the feeling there’s more to it than Ugajin wanting to have expert professionals on his team and being a meticulous researcher.
He asks to sit down, and does, in a way that seems uncharacteristically polite, especially what we now know of him– but then complains, indifferently, that he’s bored of this no-longer-gives-a-fuck, defeated JJ. This enrages JJ– he’s in this state precisely because of what Ugajin has done to him– and he has the urge to kill the guy. It’s Ugajin’s cool boredom and completely dispassionate reaction to the whole thing which is utterly fascinating to me: he’s complaining about JJ not giving a fuck, while, well, look at him. The dude is completely dead inside and to the point where he truly doesn’t seem to know how much this is a major problem. He’s mildly amused that he can make JJ react to the point of wanting to kill him, but that’s it.
Ugajin taunts JJ a bit more, inspiring his rage, and then admits his real interest in JJ.
“I’m going to kill Liu Jien, and take back the hostage he took… my father.”
Well this changes a few things. It doesn’t suddenly undo all the awful things Ugajin has done or make him non-sociopathic, but it does explain his drive and ruthlessness and completely “ends justifies the means” attitude about the whole thing… and might partially explain why he’s just about insane, too.
It also, interestingly, puts him on the same level as JJ, even though he’s directly responsible for JJ having to worry about a hostage himself. But you can’t dispute his tactic here at least: he knows exactly how motivated one is to do someone else’s bidding when there is a hostage at stake.
JJ is completely tripped out about Ugajin’s plan to essentially take down Dragon Head. And this is what I fucking love about Ugajin: that drive. That ambition. Who else would feasibly try to do something so damned crazy, with the cool, honest belief that he just can?
JJ threatens him, and then there’s something else interesting that happens: Ugajin seems to have realised that JJ is on equal footing with him, that while he’s prepared to go along with him, he’s not actually scared of him.
And I adore pairings like this, where you’re essentially looking at two people who are both on the same level and rubbing up against one another. (It’s why I love Phoenix/Miles from Ace Attorney so much, too.)
JJ follows Ugajin out of the hideout, deciding that he doesn’t trust him, and that he’s going to be the one who kills him, and thus concludes the chapter.