By Nakaba Suzuki
Gowther’s motivations and actions contradict each other. He desires to understand human emotion and be able to empathize with others, but he callously and thoughtlessly manipulates and abuses their feelings and trust. Despite being a member of the Seven Deadly Sins, he doesn’t consider them friends. He doesn’t even believe in the term. To him, “friends” are a vague and useless concept, flexibly defined to suit one’s purposes. It’s a meaningless construct for someone as rational and veracious as himself. Gowther simply can’t understand the emotions that underlie ideas like love and friendship, but that’s what intrigues his scientific mind.
To satiate his curiosity, he will go to any lengths necessary, even if he must kill his own teammates, to achieve these ends. While Escanor tries desperately to convince Gloxina to simply let him and Hawk lose the match by default Gowther doesn’t hesitate to attack and dispatch the pair. While he doesn’t use non-lethal methods to take out Hawk, he still cruelly toys with Escanor’s memories to mentally cripple him. Here Gowther devises the most efficient means of winning the battle and advancing to the next round, but if the circumstances had called for him to kill there’s no doubt he would readily do so.
In a way, Gowther’s selfish and behavior reflects some aspects of humanity: while not driven by emotion, he is driven by desire, yearning to satiate an indescribable emptiness inside him. This kind of want, be it for wealth, fame, power, or sex, is what motivates all human beings for better or worse. We all make moral choices as to how far we’re willing to go to satisfy our urges, and that is how Gowther is different. Gowther, lacking empathy nor a capacity for understanding how emotions influence the human mind, doesn’t have any moral self-awareness to his actions. In a way, he’s rather innocent: he genuinely doesn’t think what he’s doing is wrong, and is simply tapping a logical means of procuring what he wants. Even when he is torturing Escanor with visions of his past, he holds no malice or ill will. It’s simply a matter of course for him. For Gowther to understand human emotions is also for him to understand moral and ethical boundaries. As it stands, there are no limits as to what he can and will do, and that may be what makes him truly demonic, and why he’s one of the Ten Commandments.
It’s notable that Gowther isn’t the only one in the chapter who casts a negative light on human nature. Gloxina denies Escanor’s request to forfeit the match because she believes that humans will do go to any lengths, no matter how “hideous” or “despicable”, to satisfy their desires. The strong wording implies Gloxina holds some grudge against human beings, which is why she takes pleasure in their suffering. Perhaps it’s a shared hatred for humanity that binds the Ten Commandments together. It would certainly explain why once noble and respected figures like Drole and Gloxina would turn traitor to their own races and join their ranks. With every chapter, we get more subtle details on Drole and Gloxina’s motivations and histories, and it’s fun seeing how all these clues add up.
The same is true for Meliodas. His non-plussed reaction to Escanor’s pleas for help remind us that he’s not the most morally sound individual himself. After all, he did set the Commandments loose on unsuspecting and innocent towns across Liones as a strategic maneuver, sacrificing thousands of lives. Nor does he bat an eye when the Commandments kill off people right in front of him, like the stragglers in the maze. Is Meliodas fighting to stop the Commandments, or is he fighting just to enjoy himself? Meliodas’ moral ambiguity is something addressed several times in the arc, particularly by King, and the Fighting Festival may finally be where Meliodas’ true motivations come to light.
While this chapter provides strong insights into several characters, the most revelatory is easily Escanor’s. In a short but packed flashback sequence, we learn that he was once a prince from a faraway land. Abused by his brother, shunned by his family, and hunted down by his country because of his curse, Escanor lived the life of a loner until he was invited to join the Sins by Merlin. Merlin was the first person who treated him like a normal person, and the first in a long time to show him compassion instead of trepidation. Despite Gowther’s attempts to use Escanor’s love for Merlin against him by having an illusion of her tell him she’d never love him, that doesn’t matter to him. Merlin’s act of kindness opened a whole new world for Escanor, allowing him to make friends and use his power to help people. She gave him hope that he can live a happy life, and for that, illuminating his despair with a light of hope brighter than the sun. That mental image is enough to stimulate Escanor’s mind and fuel his inner strength, allowing him to overcome the stipulations of his curse and activate his power at night.
In this one sequence, we not only learn more about Escanor, but see him grow as a character, resolving his feelings for Merlin in a gratifying way. The pairing of Escanor and Gowther makes remarkable sense given the contrasts provided in this chapter: Gowther is driven by reason, whereas Escanor is driven by his emotion. Where one is trying to discover how to feel, another has come to a deeper understanding of his feelings. Escanor is more emotionally complete than Gowther, and that’s what allows him to overcome his hypnosis and overcome his limitations. While Gowther may possess reserves of strength that will make this match hard-fought still, Escanor has proven himself the stronger character in both mind and will. Now we’re gearing up for an all-out fight between two Sins, and with the strong character and thematic foundations developed in this chapter underlying it, it may very well prove to be this arc’s best fight yet.