Rurouni Kenshin- Shishio Makoto
Shishio Makoto is the penultimate villain of the Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin and is probably the best villain out of the entire series. We will be discussing him today because there are some interesting tidbits of his character that we can examine. So who is Shishio Makoto for those of us who have not seen Rurouni Kenshin?; oh, and if you haven’t, you really should.
Shishio took over as the anti-shogunate forces’ top assassin after Kenshin Himura left to become a wanderer. After the revolution and as the new Meji government was establishing themselves, the government discovered that Shishio wasn’t nearly as idealistic as Kenshin. Shishio was a sociopath who began using his knowledge of the new government for personal gain, so the new government had him assassinated. Specifically, he was shot in the head and then burned with oil. The beginning of the video has the anime version of his attempted assassination.
So just how the heck did he survive, beyond the obvious plot armor? First off, surviving being shot in the head, and/or being shot in general, all comes down to how many times the person was shot, and where the person was shot. Given the number of times Shishio was shot, it is unlikely that he would have survived simply due to the number of shots fired. The number of wounds would cause rapid blood loss and/or turn his brain into Swiss cheese. Now he did survive, so let’s say for the sake of argument that only one bullet struck him in the head.
The human brain is actually pretty big and different parts perform different functions, so survivability comes down to where in the head he was shot. If the bullet does not pass through the center of the head and only strikes a side and misses most of the brain tissue, then it is possible to survive. This has been seen off and on over the years and the degree of impairment is again dependent on the location and the size of the injury. We really have no way to tell if Shishio’s head injury has impaired him or changed his personality, given that we are not given much insight into his before injury state.
“Well, what about the burning, there is no way he could have survived that?” You are indeed correct. Burns are classified by the type of agent that causes the burn: thermal, chemical, electrical, or radiation. In this case Shishio’s burn is a thermal burn caused by the burning oil. Burns can also be classified by the depth of the burn, and area the burn covers.
1st degree- Epidermis
2nd degree- Reaches the initial layer of the dermis
3rd degree- Reaches through the entire dermis
4th degree- Reaches muscle and bone
Minor- Less than 10% of the skin
Moderate- 10 – 20% of the skin
Major- Over 20% of the skin
In the case of Shishio he had 2nd to 3rd degree burns over 90% of his body. We know this because we are informed of his injury and the problems associated with it. Sweat glands are located in deeper layers of the skin and for those to be damaged a second or third degree burn is needed. Also the amount of skin to be burned must be large in order to lose enough sweat glands to cause a major issue. A burn that severe would have a mortality rate of 85% and that is in the present day United States of America with modern medicine. A burn like Shishio’s around 1870 Japan would have been a veritable death sentence.
Given that Shishio survived two things, what he most likely did was crawl into the river almost as soon as he was able, as cooling the skin would help prevent further damage. Honey can also help burn recovery, as can aloe vera, but the evidence on aloe vera is not as strong. Cow dung, eggs, mud, and leaves are other traditional methods used to treat burns, but their effectiveness is questionable at best. Either way I am going to assume that Shishio survived in order to cover the final interesting bit about him.
Sweat, or perspiration, is an important part of our physiology as it helps to regulate our body temperature, preventing us from overheating. Sweat is a mixture of water, salt, and other compounds released by our skin during periods when the body’s temperature is higher than normal. The water absorbs heat until it evaporates, thus cooling the body. The technical term for all of this is evaporative cooling.
If you haven’t guessed it already, I want to talk about Shishio and how the burns he received affected his ability to sweat.
Hypohidrosis and Anhidrosis
Hypohidrosis is a reduction in sweat production, while Anhidrosis is a total lack of sweat production. In the case of Shishio we will be talking about anhidrosis, due to the almost complete destruction of his skin; any remaining sweat glands would be few and far between. This is even referenced in the show several times, and explains the reason why he is unable to fight for more than 15 minutes.
The most critical problem that Shishio Makoto will have beyond all of the scarring, and limited movement caused by the scarring, will be hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is a body temperature above 37.5 degrees Celsius, and again this is referenced in the show by Hoji, who mentions how hot Shishio’s blood runs. In this case it is both a physical (body temperature) and metaphorical (personality) reference.
So how will Shishio Makoto deal with this very serious medical condition? The first and most important issue would be to do everything that he could to keep his body temperature from rising, as he lacks the ability to cool down.
Drinking cool liquids
Cold showers or baths
Unfortunately, Rurouni Kenshin drops the ball here as Shishio Makoto still fights, albeit short ones, is shown soaking in a hot spring, and does not always move slowly.
Sure, the show emphasizes his inability to fight for an extended period of time, but even that would be extremely long for a person who has no ability to sweat. So again there is no way for Shishio Makoto to survive based on the actions he takes in the show.
The Final Battle
If I had one gripe with Rurouni Kenshin and realism, the final battle between Kenshin and Shishio Makoto would be it. I am talking about the battle from the first anime and not the subsequent remakes. By the time of the final battle the main characters know about Shishio’s time limit in battle and yet each person tries to defeat Shishio Makoto, leaving Kenshin to finally do it. A smarter plan would have been to continuously fight Shishio Makoto, driving his body temperature higher until hyperexia set in, which is an extreme body temperature 40.0 degrees Celsiu or higher. At this point Shishio Makoto would be become increasingly impaired.
Drunken like behavior
Don’t get me wrong, playing it straight would have made for a much more boring fight and a less dramatic ending to the Kyoto arc, but that would have been the likely result of fighting someone with no sweat glands. Oh, and yes, you can die from an extremely high body temperature, but it would not look like this.
The body would be long dead before it could light itself on fire. The highest human body temperature ever record was 115 degrees Fahrenheit in 1980 and the patient managed to survive. Duck fat for example has a smoke point (the point at which the fat breaks down) of 375 degrees Fahrenheit. So Shishio Makoto is going to be quite dead and crispy by the time his body fat lights on fire.
Survive a head shot- Maybe
Survive being shot multiple times- maybe
Survive having 2-3rd degree burns over his entire body- highly unlikely
Surviving all of that with 1870’s medicine- impossible
Living with no sweat glands- doable
Living the way he does- not possible
Death by an extremely high body temperature- entirely possible
Death by lighting your own body fat on fire- impossible
Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions please leave them in the comments section below.