One of the oddest things I remember about Ex-Arm, was how annoyingly consistent Akira was screaming about getting his body back. I had it written in my notes that at least once per episode that he would make a comment, off handedly or directly about it. These comments retrospectively felt very superficial. The supporting cast never directly replied back and no higher commentary within the episode occured. Unsurprisingly given Akira’s lack of a physical form, as a lot of his comments and concerns were usually ignored and brushed off as a whole.
But that stuck with me. I had always assumed that the ex-arms were, for better or worse Akira’s ‘body parts’. Specifically that the technology in those limbs was developed due to his untimely death by his older brother, and that since Akira is the ‘original’ ex-arm, everything else would be ‘his’ by default. They function, from what was shown in the anime, looked more like advanced body modifications, verses pieces to a cyborg so I’m not sure how accurate my ideas are. I mean, it’s also not made clear how much control Akira could exert over them without a figure like Alma being a secondary connection, etc.
Between Akira’s bitching about his body that is no longer, and the ex-arms I actually realized that Ex-Arm, really missed out on a unique idea that could be explored in depth. That idea being Phantom Limb Syndrome, but now extrapolated ten fold since the limb is not ‘missing’ in the traditional sense but was replaced intentionally. Probably – Ex-Arm wasn’t exactly clear on that. I won’t pretend I know anything about actual Phantom Limb Syndrome, I only knew one person who experienced it and there was not an appropriate time to ask them about it. I don’t believe I’ve ever really seen an anime character or series really explore this idea. (If anyone does know a series, seriously drop it down below.) Ex-Arm could have really stood out in that regard.
I then theorized that despite the poor world building and explanations of ex-arms as a functional item – there could have been a way better commentary about ex-arms retrieval/acquisition. If we work under the idea that since Akira is Ex-Arm 00, the ‘original’ so to speak since he is also sentient – Akira could have experiance ‘Phantom Limb Syndrome’ and find them that way. Certainly when an ex-arm is used improperly, or not by the right person it would discharge an unpleasant sensation? I mean, it’s already in the EX-ARM Countermeasure Prevention Team’s interest to find these ex-arms since they are destructive individually. But if they were used in unison, what would the result be? Even just in combination with Akira? There were so many possibilities aside from the ‘they’re weapons of mass destruction they must be gather and destroyed!!!’ plot line they went with.
And then I realized that Ex-Arm had already been made.
Nearly four decades earlier, and with significantly better stakes.
That story being Dororo of course.
I feel like the parallels are obvious here but walk with me. Dororo as a story at it’s most basic, is about Hyakkimaru regaining his body parts that were traded in exchange for power by a family member. In re-acquiring his body, Hyakkimaru removes an ‘evil’ threatening the area it’s in, and regains parts of his humanity. While Hyakkimaru isn’t under anyone’s control the way Akira is, both have secondary characters that smooth over social concerns that the body seeker might not be able to navigate due to their current circumstances – Hyakkimaru has Dororo and Jukai, Akira has Alma and Minami. There’s more broadly some political strife with the body seeker regaining their lost parts – Daigo’s domain falls into ruin when it was once prosperous, future world has global peace potentially in crisis as ex-arms are used.
I could go on for awhile about how Dororo bests Ex-Arm in all ways, anime to anime comparison. But I think most anyone whose seen even an episode of each series would be able to make that distinction. For my own satisfaction I’ll elaborate just a little more. For one, ex-arms are a bit too vague in terms of power, and why each one coincides with the ability it has. There’s no real indication about any trade-offs an ex-arm user has, if any. They all seemed to be evil before getting the ex-arm, so we can’t say that possessing one makes you evil. Even things like if they use one too long, it deteriorates their human body, etc. It’s never made clear exactly how many there are either. Poking around on the fandom wiki there appears to be 12 listed, but I can’t be sure. Not suffering again for this blog post, sorry.
In Dororo it’s understood that each body part contains about the same amount of power per demon. As Hyakkimaru regains body parts though, the power of the demons becomes a bit stronger due to the more immediate threat of an almost whole Hyakkimaru. It’s also clear that as much as Hyakkimaru’s goal is to have a human body that comes at a cost. I.e. getting his sight back causes concerns with distinguishing ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and getting his nervous system means he feels pain when he’s hit. Ex-arms weren’t developed enough to have that nuance.
The other one is the physical form when the body is not whole. Hyakkimaru clearly has the leg up on this one, since he has a false body built and maintained by him by Jukai. With a bit of practice, Hyakkimaru can inhabit it independently outside from minor changes as he battles and or regains body parts. This choice allows Hyakkimaru to freely pursue the demons with his body parts as he is able, beholden to no one really aside from the limitations of Jukai’s handy work and Dororo as a companion.
In comparison, Akira is kinda trapped in Ex-Arm 00 which is just… his mind really. Like seriously, there is so much they could have done with that and it was squandered on episode five fan service. Truly a waste of potential. Back on track he can with some significant assistance and compromises from Minami and Alma, inhabit Alma’s body temporarily. This also seems only possible to achieve an objective and then he’s booted out of her. That’s a lot of obstacles to get through in order to have a functional body to manipulate, on top of the tight watch the Ex-Arm Countermeasures folks. The work around is that Akira has his miniature form which allows him a certain amount of freedom to explore and more directly participate – once again at the discretion of the squad. It lacks autonomy as well, there’s no defensive or offensive gear added to it from my recollection. So it’s largely ineffective at making Akira independent at ex-arm retrieval, reducing him to being a tag along. There’s also the black solider android that Akira can weird, but again – Ex-Arm Countermeasure folks and the Japanese Government (?) own that and won’t let Akira just… exist in that. Fair enough I suppose, but it’s not really explained how they manage to ‘oust’ Akira from it…
I wish I had a more conclusive final thoughts for you, but I don’t. I ran out of steam it seems. It’s pretty obvious but Ex-Arm managed to squander all it’s potential since it has some great predecessors to pull inspiration from. If you’re looking for a take-back-my-body story, Dororo is the superior version. So go watch that.