However Kai here is still so very much the Kai we know of old, the one whose motives never bear too close an examination. I was thinking that we're back to bastard!Kai after some serious exposure to sympa!Kai in vol 15 and really this moral flip-flopping with respect to the character was giving me a touch of motion sickness: until I realized I was, hrm, interrogating the text from the wrong perspective and Ima probably doesn't have a moral attitude to Kai at all. At which I promptly went from motion-sickness to vertigo, because it's an automatic assumption with me that there's a moral take inherent in all characters unless you deliberately remove it. There are Good people and Bad people and people who are mixtures of Bad and Good: but the moral standard always exists because, well, because if you don't have one there's no up or down in the world and it's terrifying.
It's one thing to know intellectually that the Japanese don't think in absolute moral terms and another to run nose-first into the wall of a concrete example. But there it is: neither Kai nor Ritsu acts against the background of an assumed moral standard. Their actions just make them sympathetic (sometimes) or very much the reverse (sometimes) or- most often- a combination of both simultaneously. If Kai's motives generally don't bear close inspection, neither do Ritsu's attitudes: both suffer from that Japanese social vice, wagamama, which is western selfishness in a society that expects you to consult others' convenience far more than we do, and hence is far more damnable than western selfishness. But these traits are presented as deplorable (for the effects they have) and not 'bad' (because they're absolutely morally wrong in themselves.)
I'm OK with this up to the point where Kai or Ritsu's wagamama works to other people's harm- and then my instincts insist loudly that a moral rule has come into play and these actions must be judged morally. And Ima doesn't. She writes social comedy in which the virtues and vices are, well, social; and she rejects any comforting black and white morality plays. (In fact there's one story that runs off a moral Japanese fable, where a virtuous old man is offered as a reward, a choice between a small box and a big one, and naturally chooses the small box because he's a virtuous old man; the sympathetic protagonist of Ima's story specifically rejects the morality of the fable in favour of the higher truth of the emotions.) She can do this because her characters are complex enough that the mixture of what I'll still call good and evil reads as human and real life: but there's no denying that the absence of good and evil in *her* conception of the world (or at least, in her conception of the Iijima family: murderers and such-like usually get what for) makes me very uneasy indeed.
However I shall continue to meditate on that oft-repeated line that Kai is the one who resembles his father the most (in this story it's Kai himself who says it, only to deny that it's true): and wonder if that means that Kagyuu too was a manipulator with one eye on his own convenience even when helping other people out, or if we really are to see him as the quasi-saint that Ritsu does. You know, saints don't usually disinherit their sons, but Kagyuu did disinherit Kai.