Danganronpa, Trigger Happy Havoc: Sakura and Chihiro

danganronpa-bastu

Danganronpa pulls from the same well as The Hunger Games – Battle Royale by Koshun Takami – by forcing a group of teenagers to kill each other. Unlike Battle Royale, the forced killing in Danganronpa isn’t an allegory for something else. In Battle Royale, the students were forced to kill each other by a totalitarian, despotic regime. One can draw metaphors in the book (and the movie less so) to a competitive high school life, existentialism, and the fragility of trust between people. In Danganronpa it exists no more as a setting. Where Battle Royal goes out, Danganronpa goes in, focusing instead on its characters than a bigger message.

In The Philosophy of Battle Royale, Danielle Cole quotes Sartre when speaking about the existential philosophy present in the book and movie.

French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre explained a key concept of existentialism to be that existence precedes essence.  Which is to say that man first exists and then defines himself.  He states, “existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him.”  What Sartre’s idea does not address: who is it that will show us what we are?  Is there some greater force outside ourselves who makes such determinations?

Sartre further explained, “When we say that man chooses his own self, we mean that every one of us does likewise; but we also mean that in making this choice he also chooses all men.”  So that each action we take as individuals, we should consider as an action being taken by all men.  So that we should think, what would be the outcome should all people behave in this way?

She continues with how the students are forced to consider a life where everyone wants to kill each other because they are forced into a world where “everyone is a threat.”

Danganronpa goes the other way because most of the students choose to not follow the rules of killing each other – which in this game comes without consequences. Monokuma, the antagonist, states the rules as no one can leave unless they kill someone and get away with it. The other alternative is to live a life cooped up in a school-turned-prison in communal peace.

Most of the students want out but also see murder as a non-option. This goes directly against the zero-sum game in Battle Royale, where students have to kill or they will get murdered. Danganronpa’s characters choose to define themselves outside of the context they are in. They choose to be peaceful, thinking if I am this way, and if everyone else defines themselves as this way, it will be better for everyone. Battle Royale’s students see each other as threats but Danganronpa’s students choose to see the person(s) responsible for putting them in this situation as the only threat. Therefore they are able to work together. It’s nice to see that most of the characters do want to work together. Often these settings just mean that everyone will die and not only does that remove tension, it has also become dull.

Of course, there are a few murders in the game but I liked that half of the games murders aren’t premeditated or come about through non-evil means. Most of the characters of Danganronpa choose freedom – by working together to solve the ultimate mystery, while the students in Battle Royale (with the exception of 3) choose to follow the rules imposed on them. And in contrast, it is the characters of Danganronpa that are more interesting than the over-arching narrative. There are 2 characters that stood out in particular.

Chihiro and Sakura

There has been a lot of criticism of Danganronpa’s handling of a transgendered character, Chihiro. I went into the game knowing there would be a twist regarding one of the character’s genders and I was able to spot which one it would be before the big reveal. I may be showing my ignorance, but Chihiro did not come off to me as a transgendered character. I am not convinced he identified as a girl. He disguised himself as one to avoid facing constant bullying and pressure that comes from ideas of stereotypical masculine identity. Chihiro is physically weak and timid and was bullied for it. He developed a complex and hid behind the facade of being a girl.chihiro

Chihiro’s features and demeanor go against those of what we culturally consider masculine. Physically weak, timid, full of self-doubt. After being bullied and told to “be a man”, he decided to hide who he was by passing himself off as a girl. This part brought to mind the excellent poem “10 Responses to the phrase Man Up” by Guante.

Archaic ideas of masculinity made Chihiro hide who he really is because he thought he couldn’t live up to them. During the game, he looks up to the stereotypically strong characters, especially Mondo, the biker gang leader. He desperately wants to be considered “a man” but feels that he can’t be one because he is “weak”. Deciding to change this to become more like a man, Chihiro seeks Mondo’s aid in becoming strong. Chihiro associated being physically strong with being masculine which is interesting but also shows how limited Chihiro’s thinking was. Anyway, this leads to Chihiro’s death. Monokuma had threatened the students to expose their biggest secrets. Both Chihiro and Mondo have big secrets that they have kept from the group – Mondo’s indecision caused the death of his brother, who sacrificed his life to save Mondo.

Seeing Chihiro’s courage to face his fears head on caused Mondo to become jealous, enter an impulsive state that he does not remember, and kills Chihiro with a dumb bell. The irony is clear – the “weaker” man’s strength made the “stronger, masculine” man insecure. It begs the question, who was really being the “man” in this situation? Chihiro was taking actions we associate with manliness to address his fears head on and to take responsibility. Chihiro wanted to become strong on the outside without seeing that he was strong on the inside. It is this standard for what makes a man in our culture that led to two characters’ deaths. Mondo’s aggressive response is also part of the tough-guy masculinity that we, as a culture, propagate and which caused him to kill. Often, masculinity has been depicted as showing no emotion, being strong, being aggressive, but it is all a veneer, a fake covering of what we really feel. Keeping those feelings from surfacing also requires us to not feel them in case we lift our veil subconsciously. One of the two most “masculine” characters in the game was the one who everyone thought was a girl. And the second is actually a girl.

sakuraSakura is in some way the direct opposite from Chihiro. She is the strongest human alive, a bulging mass of muscle, quiet, stoic, calm, and unemotional. She has almost all the traits that we associate with masculinity. While her appearance might be comical, a really muscular person squeezed into a school girl uniform, she is not. Despite this, in the socializing parts of the game you come to learn that Sakura indeed has emotions and the capacity for love. Of course she does, she is human. What Danganronpa does here is present a version of the ultimate man but make them a woman, and then shows us that you can be strong and have feelings. Contrast this with the other male characters in the game (the player character excluded) who prefer to hide their feelings behind shouting. The amount of aggressive dialogue and sound cues from Mondo, Leon, and Kiyotaka in asserting their presence or strength contrasts greatly with the serene calmness of Sakura. Her gentleness combined with her strength, and her sacrifice towards the end of the game to preserve the group made her out to be more manly than many of the men in the game, who I may add, call her “The Ogre” and refuse to fight her – treating her like an abnormality – just another way for them to not face something they were afraid of by keeping up a mask of masculinity.

Women have been stereotyped into a few roles by the media and relegated to certain behaviours by our culture at large. I know that things are changing and that is good and much needed. We have been able to identify that how we depict and treat women is often negative but many males don’t seem to have realized that the same thing is being done to them. It is true that males are often depicted either heroically or bad-ass, and a lot of the references to male culture in this post is meant to reference that image. While projecting an image that our culture considers positive – strong, calm, smart, successful, brave – this is damaging because it reinforces behaviour that comes at a cost to our well-being.

Firstly, enforcing a certain behaviour, whether negative or positive, does not give individuals wiggle room to express themselves or to act comfortably which denies their humanity even when such behaviours are seen as trivial. Secondly, this image is spread via media – TV, movies, advertising, etc. – and display standards that individuals can’t live up to on a daily basis. Just like most women can`t look like supermodels, most men can’t look like action heroes. Most men can’t be witty and condescending like they are on TV comedies. Most men can’t be smart like Sherlock Holmes.

Danganronpa shows us that old ideas of being masculine are harmful and that you don’t need to be a man to “be manly”. It shows us how limiting presenting gender stereotypes are, and shows us what it could be.

 

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