Ishii Hiroshi is dying. Or, at least, closer to dying now than he was, say, a moment ago, but he’s most certainly not dead yet. When a winged figure reveals itself to him and declares himself to be a valkyrie here to wing Ishii to Valhalla, he politely refuses. He’s no more a hero than he is a Viking, so he sends the brown-eyed valkyrie away.
Sakuma was once a man, like Ishii. He knows what it is to fight in wars you don’t believe in for men you don’t trust. But Sakura, like Ishii, was fighting for more than medals and recognition. He, too, fought for Japan, for the country he loved and the people who lived there. But that was long ago, before he was taken to Valhalla.
In Valhalla — where true warriors and heroes, men whose purpose is to feast and fight in the great halls, wait for Ragnarök — there is no good or evil, no right side or wrong side. So long as you were a true warrior who died in battle or a hero, you were chosen by the valkyries. In Ishii, Sakuma senses a good man. A man he wants to save from the horrors and pain of the ongoing war that weighs on his soul. But each time he comes to whisk Ishii away, again and again the man chooses life, chooses to fight. Ishii’s time is running out and Sakuma doesn’t know if there’s much more time before Ishii’s soul, tired of betrayal and horror, gives up before the man’s wounded body does.
Valhalla is not a story about war. for all that war forms the backdrop. This is a story about a good man fighting, as best he can, for those he is responsible for. For the men in his unit, for the people who can’t defend themselves, for his country, even if he doesn’t agree with the direction his country has chosen or the men that have been called upon to lead it. For all that there is talk of Heaven and Valhalla (though they aren’t the same place), this isn’t a story about the morality of war and death and dying. It’s simply Ishii’s story.
Ishii, when we first see him, certainly isn’t ready to die, but he has nothing against sitting and talking to the winged figure keeping him company before he gets back up and charges into the fray. Each time Sakuma comes to collect him, Ishi keeps waving the valkyrie away, and yet, when Sakuma does as Ishii asks — and leaves him alone — he can’t help but miss the company of someone who understands, in his own way, the confusion and heartsickness of what Ishii’s going through.
Sakuma is an idealist. He has come to collect a hero and he’s not letting Ishii get away. The first time, he was amenable to giving Ishii more time. The second time, he’s like a puppy, hopefully looking to see if Ishii’s ready to die, yet. But it’s when he visits Ishii while the other man is on leave that the two begin to form a friendship. The two of them understand one another, both as warriors and as men. The relationship isn’t based on physical lust — Sakuma can’t even make a pencil move across a table — but a growing friendship.
Even when Ishii worries that, given the things he is asked to do, given the actions he is asked to taken and has taken, he doesn’t deserve what’s being offered him, Sakuma doesn’t try to offer comfort or to excuse those doubts away. Like many soldiers in many wars, Ishii isn’t the one in charge, isn’t the one giving the orders. He’s simply the one given the choice to follow them… or not. We never know what Ishii has or hasn’t done; we only know what he feels.
“I don’t deserve it,” Ishii told him for the second time. “I don’t deserve you, and I don’t deserve Valhalla.” Sakuma’s face softened. It happened all at once, like meaning crashed over and consumed him. He looked far too human now— far too real and tender, and not at all like the confident Valkyrie Ishii had met years ago.
“You don’t get to decide,” Sakuma said.
This is a short story and I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, or the twist, such as it is. It’s a very quick read, and an interesting take on Valkyries. It shows an understanding that the men involved in the wars between countries are just men. Men who may not believe in the tasks they’re asked to perform, who might not even believe in the war itself, but who will give their lives for the lives of their families and friends. For all its subject matter, this was a light, cute, friendly little story and I enjoyed it.