Hey there. Long time no post here again. I could’ve posted something like a poem with a reading, a fanfic chapter, a piece of music stuff, or one of my already submitted and graded Creative Writing projects, but then this happened, and it happened hard. Like, with how much nervousness I’ve been feeling over this, that might be saying something, no?
Now, I didn’t really think that I’d come to doing something like this again a few years after I tried to do reflections on the Kagerou Project, especially its anime, Mekakucity Actors. I hadn’t really felt like I could do something like that again, especially considering how I felt after attempts at some periodical reflection series or so. Perhaps I’m meant to be more sudden about posts like this, then? Well, there is the fact that I went straight into writing this right after the inspiration bolt struck, and there’s also how occasionally I post lately, so…yeah, hahaha~ XD
Still, it would require serious thinking, so there. Hours at least, if you want an idea about the time it would take, but even that minimum estimate is already real crazy, so…yeah.
Anyway, I’m now considering that set of reflections on KagePro a prototype for this series I’d like to call Superheroes vs God Almighty.
Now, as for how this will work, well, I have a bunch of favorite stories, see, fictional stories with heroes (and they can be outside the non-realist zone as well, since writing can make even the most ordinary heroes look super) beloved by a considerable number, though mostly niche in the bigger picture, and I’ve been observing myself and how I’ve been tending to view them with either the lens of cynical dung or the lens of naive roses. Like, they’re all imperfect stories, and I’ve been approaching them with imperfect criticism as well. Either the story only has bad guys in a gritty realist tale where problems can’t be solved right, or the story has good guys and bad guys with no in-betweens in some diabetes-inducing fairy tale where problems can be solved without proper order. They can seem like attempts to escape the traps of those two extremes, too, but they’re still stuck in that popular dichotomy I myself also tend to apply in their creation and criticism. That also makes me think that we are more focused on helping each other understand the sort of flawed human thinking we often find ourselves trapped in, so much that we tend to forget to think about making it more properly advanced. Or even though we do have a growing understanding of our flaws and continuous effort toward better change, there may be some important things we’ve been overlooking.
If you ask me about this, well, what I think we’re missing is God Almighty, be it through cutting Him out of the equation and/or misinterpreting His will, something that’s understandably tempting, considering today’s rehashed and recycled problems that pretty much stem from our imperfect hearts. I can understand the lack of faith from those who don’t believe, though, especially since us humans who claim to be faithful believers often struggle and fall short in actually acting like such. As for those who do try to believe and be faithful, it’s easy to say that we do understand what God wants from us, but then again, a lot of Jesus Christ’s fellow Jews back then, especially their leaders, weren’t really receptive of how He dined with sinners, among other things. And yes, even I’m still trying to figure out more about what He means even as I continue to practice my Roman Catholic faith.
And with the society I find myself in, I now find myself wanting to challenge my favorite stories, stories which align with my adventurous shounen and crazy seinen tastes that are held together by borderline fairy-tale optimism. You can call this blog post series of mine a journey of self-discovery in other aspects as well, so yeah, better keep in mind that I’m also an autistic heterosexual male Filipino young adult with kinda light skin and a suburban upbringing.
Now let’s start with one story I’ve been into once again and even deeper recently thanks to Steam and whimsy: Danganronpa. And it’s a series as well, I know, but for this one, I’ll focus on the first game alone, as it’s already interesting enough by itself. And I’ll be talking with NISA lingo, so yeah, if you’re not comfy with it, well, just remember that there’s likely to be a lot more uncomfortable stuff I’ll be talking about here.
Oh, and since I’ll be talking in-depth about this, HERE’S A SPOILER WARNING BEFORE A READ MORE CUT!
Anyway, this interest of mine in the Japanese murder mystery visual novel filled with fast-paced minigames, stylized visuals, and mood-swinging audio is topped by my interest in its characters, plots, and themes. I’d also like to thank my friend Medieval Otaku for having discussed about the Danganronpa story before, even though he had only watched the anime that past year, as it planted a seed within me, a seed that would have me wanting to think and talk about such deceptively complex stories more, be it through pieces of fanfiction, be it through outright criticism pieces, or be it through personal discussion periods, even. I think I should send my thanks to Mr. Gill and Ms. Tushnet as well, so there. And I guess all those Creative Writing classes are meant to prepare me more for stuff like this as well, so I better be more thankful to my teachers there too…
Now, to give you more of an idea about the story, it is set in Hope’s Peak Academy, a school for scouted “Ultimates” (or “Super High School Levels,” if you want it more literal and ridiculous, though I will admit that I was fascinated by that translation before) who are considered the hope of their nation, and its protagonist is a self-proclaimed average guy named Makoto Naegi, who entered as the Ultimate Lucky Student through the school’s lottery for that title. Thing is, as he steps into the school for his very first day of class, he finds himself losing consciousness there, followed by awakening to the inside of a tightly barred and monitored classroom, a small piece of the whole deadly mystery that turns out to be a killing game within a school filled with no one else except fifteen students (Makoto included) and a remote-controlled animatronic teddy bear named Monokuma (which was controlled by a sixteenth student who was a once thought dead batchmate of theirs as well all along, but that wasn’t thought about much until later on in the game) trapping said students in a “Live here forever or kill your way out” set of rules which also involves funky detective work, youthfully informal trials, and psychotically detailed executions. Oh, and the bear-controlling Mastermind likes to play mind games on the students. Like rules lawyering. And blame shifting. I mean, just look at those motive preparations and post-execution talks! Hostage-taking of important companions, blackmail involving deep and dark personal secrets, a mere freakload of money, public snitching on a traitor, good ol’ rule-bending, and the classic dichotomy that is blissful ignorance versus depressing knowledge! And then Monokuma, up until the last two Class Trials, would act like Pilate and say that he never murdered, only pushing them towards doing it, as if it’s not as bad as taking another’s life with one’s own hands!
Oh, and by the way, considering what I’ve learned from a Creative Writing Professor of mine in my university, proving that the criminal’s a criminal is not as important in the Filipino context, and that perspective is something I’ve noticed in how I’ve been looking at the murder mystery story that is Danganronpa. I pretty much run on general knowledge, taking the writing’s word for it with my gullible Information Age brain as I have fun with mystery-solving made more action-packed with bullets and a timer. Take away the whole action and detective stuff, though, well, that would reveal what I like to think about more: morality, particularly Catholic morality. And talking about that detective fiction + Filipino context thread some more, I’ve learned from my Professor that bringing justice and keeping that justice maintained (e.g. keeping jailed criminals in jail and non-threatening) matters more than just solving the whodunit in the country where I’m from.
So yeah, tl;dr: My Filipino ass shall push all that Sherlock and CSI to the side for now.
And with that, I’m gonna question Makoto Naegi, his dumb luck, and his emotional will…and man, he hits closer to home than I thought, alright…
Although Makoto is the protagonist and the viewpoint character, it should be reiterated that his title is Ultimate Lucky Student. We can thank Kyoko Kirigiri for his detective skills, especially since it’s revealed later on that she’s actually the Ultimate Detective. Whatever likely reason Kyoko has for preferring to push most of the revelation work to Makoto (for example: wanting to not be looked at as a killer swinging the executioner’s axe on the guilty party, Makoto being more outspoken and emotional than the colder and more calculating Kyoko, and the game being more entertaining if the bomb-dropping is done by the average guy a lot of people can relate to), detective work isn’t Makoto’s forte. He works better as a motivator, as evidenced by efforts like pointing out Monokuma’s fault in instigating murder instead of letting the bear just shift all of the blame to his classmates, along with some Nonstop Debate moments in the Chapter 3 Class Trial where he practically works as an amplifying spokesperson for Kyoko against Ultimate Gambler Celestia Ludenberg. Makoto’s more intelligent companions in the Class Trials also have a tendency to hold themselves back and leave the declaration work to him, with Byakuya Togami, the arrogant Ultimate Affluent Progeny, being a notable example of those more intelligent companions, along with Kyoko already being a given example of that as well. And there’s also how he manages to convince his Mastermind-silenced classmates to brave the wrecked world outside the school, too, reminding me of how delivery is just as important as content as well. Perhaps Makoto can be called a detective’s assistant with the face of a detective, then? Or maybe the Ultimate Public Speaker? Then again, in an environment where Ultimates are ordinary, wouldn’t an average guy already stand out even more just by being average there?
To be frank, though, the way he’s called “Ultimate Hope” at the end of the game feels quite…human. Like, in a more secular sense. Then again, so is the whole “Ultimate” labeling in the world of Danganronpa. It’s already pretentious and ridiculous, and probably even more so if you consider how that labeling in the original Japanese literally translates into “Super High School Level,” so much that I’m reminded of pantheons. I can expect Makoto being a good candidate to become the boss of it all, too, if they were a pantheon, since there’s more appeal in a leader who knows how to serve like the masses do, even to someone who doesn’t have much belief in God Almighty. But with Makoto being called the “Ultimate Hope” by the end of the game, there seems to be the implication that being a hero with great leadership skills requires dumb luck and emotional will.
Now, why would I call Makoto’s luck dumb?
Think about it: Every time Makoto seeks and exposes the truth, it’s often unfortunate, if not always. His classmates hurt and even killed each other, with good intentions given twisted manifestations by the darkness in their hearts, and outing them causes more pain than joy. And then there’s how the outside world had gone through a sort of apocalypse, with the killing game Makoto and his classmates were in being a didactic reality show directed and hosted by Ultimate Despair Junko Enoshima, the hidden controller of Monokuma, who killed Mukuro Ikusaba, the Ultimate Soldier who was posing as her younger twin sister at the start of the game. But when Makoto engages in deception, he escapes certain harm or ends up getting something good in the long run. For example, after the fact about the mole among them was revealed, a once angry Kyoko forgives him for withholding information from her about Ultimate Martial Artist Sakura Ogami’s status as the Mastermind’s mole. And when he goes along with Kyoko’s obvious lie (after a bunch of other misdirections that were meant to turn Makoto into bait for the Mastermind) in the very convoluted Chapter 5 Class Trial, he manages to survive the Mastermind’s desperate crushing block execution because of the survival and interference of their AI companion named Alter Ego, who was crushed in his computer in a special execution done by Monokuma at the end of the Chapter 4 Class Trial (where it was revealed that Sakura was both killer and victim because she had killed herself). Said ending contrasts the so-called “Bad Ending,” where Makoto calls out Kyoko’s lie, leading Kyoko to be the subject of the Mastermind’s desperate execution, but only this time, she ends up getting crushed, and her surviving classmates live on in a flash of resigned ignorance and grown polygamy.
Indeed, the more I think about it, the way the game’s been working up luck, along with truth (Classic blissful ignorance vs depressing knowledge dichotomy, anyone?), got me raising an eyebrow higher and higher. And perhaps how Kyoko acted in Chapter 4 can be considered foreshadowing for Chapter 5, then? It makes her hypocritical, yeah, but at least she’s aware and can feel guilt about it, considering how things turned out there…
Though as fun as it is to think that Makoto’s survival in the “True Ending” route of Chapter 5 could be considered a very poetic use of Chekhov’s Gun (like, come on, that luck’s gotta be worth something sometime, no?), I also found it troubling in a moral sense. Then again, there’s Job, as I’ve learned with the help of Mr. Gill, so the whole carrot-and-stick thinking probably won’t be a good response here. But thinking about it some more, it’s not the convoluted logic and morality trip-up that is Chapter 5 that troubles me the most now.
Oh yes, there’s something that beats the Chapter 5 Class Trial, and it’s the Chapter 6 Class Trial, a.k.a the game’s final trial, where Makoto’s popularly convincing emotional will becomes most prominent.
As Medieval noted in his post in Beneath the Tangles, “Makoto struggles against Junko not by force of argument, but by force of will.” And as I’ve commented in agreement with his ideas that changed my views on the story, “Will is one thing, and it can be powerful, but will is supposed to have direction, particularly a good one, otherwise it’s just nothingness, or driving a car while pressing the gas pedal but not holding the steering wheel.”
Now, to emphasize how troubling the Chapter 6 Class Trial was and how I ended up considering it the face of my opponent in this argument of mine, the final Nonstop Debate of said Chapter (and therefore, the whole game itself) was one where Makoto had to use the word “hope” from his own statement (and it should be noted that in the game, it had to be gained and turned into a “Truth Bullet” using the green-glowing statement memorization function, which only works on orange-marked phrases, phrases which are also called “weak points”) and fire it at his stunned speechless friends, who would then react practically just like Makoto after having their silence broken by Makoto’s epically depicted “Don’t lose hope!” Counters. Ultimate Clairvoyant Yasuhiro Hagakure sets aside some of his belief in his dubious talent (30% accurate fortune-telling, to be more exact), which had already been made more dubious than Makoto’s own by how low his book and street smarts are (and Hiro’s fearful disbelief of the occult is so unbelievable that even his classmates question it!). Next, Ultimate Swimmer Aoi Asahina peps up with a “That’s probably what she would say” reference to the late Sakura Ogami. Ultimate Affluent Progeny Byakuya Togami then talks like he wasn’t even fazed by the recent dark revelations, vowing to rebuild his fallen family from the ground up with the arrogant certainty that rubbed his peers the wrong way more often than not. As for Ultimate Murderous Fiend Genocide Jill (or “Genocider Sho” in Japanese), standing in for her gloomier and more insecure personality who is Ultimate Writing Prodigy Toko Fukawa, she basically says that she would go along with whatever is more popular and, of course, has her Master Byakuya on it. And then Ultimate Detective Kyoko Kirigiri pretty much does a “My father would probably be happier if I did this” and leaves it all to Makoto, even though she still bore some uncertainty through the gaps in her memory about her murdered father she more remembered hating at that point in time because of abandonment issues. And to top it all off, they let Junko kill herself after all that, letting her get more of that despair she always wanted! That’s like believing in violence being a good way to beat violence! Then again, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, especially considering moments like Sakura’s true last testament and how her surviving classmates reacted to it, particularly to the part about why Sakura really killed herself. “Too strong,” my ass…and it hurts even more ’cause such ways of thinking still hold popularity today! What a limited sense of “Ultimate,” indeed…though I still ship Makoto and Kyoko. I find them quite complementary, y’know? Makoto and Junko also make an interesting pairing, speaking of which…but eh, that way lies more madness and abuse, so yeah, better to have some distance between them.
Back on topic, though, I could explain and defend all that dumb luck and emotional will away with how I’ve noticed more and more people these days believing in stuff through sheer force of will and not much good reason more and more (and believe me, I end up encountering such people a lot in my uni and in the Net), calling it all relatable, but not every popular thing is good (and isn’t that a statement we both love and hate?).
So, pushing away all that bandwagoning, I have questions: We survive and all, sure, and we got the will and all, but what’s next? What’s it all for? Are we just gonna leave it to luck and button-mash our way to Heaven? And if we have button-mashing as our best at times, and it still isn’t enough, then can’t we strive to see if our best can be better than that? Don’t we tend towards wanting to improve when we find ourselves slipping up or lacking something? And can the mere erasure and absence of negative emotions be even called hope? Does positivity even grow without any effort?
And if I don’t believe in God Almighty, well, I’d agree with calling Makoto the “Ultimate Hope,” as it’s already hard enough to hold a bit of will to live these days, considering all those self-deprecating memes being shared every single day along with all them complicated issues in society. Someone like Makoto would look like a deity already in that case, then. The self-effacing modesty, steadfast optimism, and expected fury he has makes him quite a character already, and I can even imagine him politely giving me a good listen and a worthwhile debate as long as I keep it polite with him! But at the same time, I can imagine him being someone who’d have a hard time resisting people who are more emotional and willful than him, like Ultimate Pop Sensation Sayaka Maizono, who used him in her attempt to “graduate.” And on top of all that, the way he thinks about hope reminds me of those people saying stuff like “Your dreams are the key to your success” and “Follow your own heart and nobody else’s,” which are all a little too focused on will and the self, all while God-centered morality doesn’t get much focus. It’s easy to shoot down in theory with a “What if your dreams and your heart are imperfect?,” but at the same time, it’s hard to shake off in practice because of our limited senses that aren’t as wide as God Almighty’s.
Thinking about it some more, perhaps the game can be quite a reflection of today. The average guy has quite an amount of willpower, sure, and he’s quite in touch with emotions, but he’s still trying to figure out lots and lots of stuff about life and its more prominent craziness, just like every other human here on earth, humans who don’t feel understood enough as well more often than not, all while still doubting the existence of God Almighty, whose presence is so mysterious that He can be perceived as unbelievable, for better or worse. The world is also so confusing, so much that believing in dumb luck seems more and more like a good idea. And there’s gotta be somebody telling the others that such things are understandable and maybe even acceptable, right? Doesn’t all that sound familiar?
Oh, and as I pondered about what alternate titles would better suit Makoto, I would’ve called him the “Ultimate Human,” but I think Jesus Christ beat him there two millennia ago. Still and will be beat by Christ Almighty, too, even if I think that the “Ultimate Relatable” title can fit Makoto. We humans are complex, but we’re meant for greater and greater goodness, after all. Or like my high school alma mater says as its motto: We’re born for greater things. Why am I thinking about alternate “Ultimate” titles when God Almighty is already the Ultimate Ultimate, though?
Oh, and do I believe in luck? Well, considering what I’ve encountered in life, I guess so. Still, I’d call it dumb luck if I just screw around after receiving it, and I’d call it smart luck if I use it as a springboard towards becoming more in line with God Almighty’s plans. I could have all the luck in the world and still let myself degrade into a screwup like Junko, after all, considering aspects of myself like how I’m into rushing my duties and responsibilities and feeling like I’m entitled to unlimited rest time and instant pleasure.
And indeed, I got my foot on the gas pedal, but I still need to figure out how to steer properly. And my actual driving skills are non-existent as of now. God Almighty help me drive right figuratively (always) and literally (if You will it), then.
And hey, honest constructive feedback is highly encouraged and will be highly appreciated, dear readers. Please pray for me as well.